By Mark Etheridge
Le Roux Hamman boasts national bragging rights in the men’s 400-metre hurdles for the next year, after winning the event at the SA Senior Championships in Potchefstroom at the weekend.
What was set up to be a three-way fight for gold between Hamman, warhorse LJ van Zyl and Commonwealth champion Cornel Fredericks fell somewhat flat when Fredericks had to withdraw due to injury worries.
That saw the 25-year-old Hamman slugging it out with three-time Olympian Van Zyl, a man six years his senior.
And it was the former who hogged the headlines with a 49.35sec victory, just ahead of Van Zyl (49.52) and then Constant Pretorius in third, also dipping under the 50sec barrier with a 49.83.
Hamman explained that he gambled in the final by adopting a different tactic. ‘I decided beforehand that I was going to race a different-paced rhythm so that I could run more comfortably as well as quicker.’
The gamble paid dividends immediately. ‘For the first time in a long while I was level with the front guys with 100m to go. And from then on it was just a question of hanging on.
‘It goes without saying that I’m never going to forget this race. Apart from the win it was one of the best races I’ve ever run in… that last 100m where LJ and me were running stride for stride next to each other was just the best.’
As for the rest of the year, and Hamman is targeting IAAF World Championships in London. ‘That’s my main goal for the year. I’m really hoping to make that team and represent my country.
‘And then there’s also World University Games in Taipei, Taiwan. The goal there is to make the final and hopefully go for the win. Apart from that, I don’t have many races lined up in Europe yet, but will start planning that now.’
As for Van Zyl, he was gracious in defeat. ‘Obviously I would have liked to win, but 49.5 is OK right now. I’m heading overseas for the first two Diamond Leagues, so I’m excited.
Van Zyl missed Saturday’s relay events as a precaution, as he was suffering with a sore throat, but his 400m hurdles silver is yet another addition to an impressive list of track and field achievements.
It was his 11th SA Seniors medal and he’s never missed a senior national championships since 1999, after winning long jump gold as an Under-10 competitor in Bellville four years prior to that. And since 2004 he’s been part of an SA team every year.
As for Fredericks, he was down, but not out. ‘It was just a small setback in Potchefstroom, but nothing too serious. It’s back problems causing pain in other parts of my body and I couldn’t give 100%.
‘But I’ll bounce back soon, the medical opinion is just two or three weeks. I’m getting my race programme for June and July in Europe I’ll be stronger when I get back.’
Picture of Hamman and Van Zyl fighting it out down the final straight courtesy of Roger Sedres/ImageSA