By Mark Etheridge
Beijing 1500-metre finalist Juan van Deventer’s Olympic dream is back on track and he heads off to Europe next week in a last ditch bid to qualify for the London 2012 Games.
Van Deventer’s 2011 track and field season came to an abrupt and painful end on 11 May last year when he was hit by a car while training in Ruimsig, Johannesburg.
He broke his kneecap and needed surgery to correct the problem. He now leaves for Europe almost exactly a year to the day after his accident.
Recovery has been slow and arduous and he skipped the national athletics championships in Port Elizabeth last month (with medical expertise backing him up) in order to concentrate on his training. He now needs to twice run the Olympic A standard qualifying target of 3min 35.00 in order to cement a place on Team South Africa for the Games.
Van Deventer, now 29, was the first South African to reach the final of the 1500m event at the Beijing Olympics and went on to finish seventh in a time of 3:34.77sec. His best time to date is the 3:34.90 he ran in New York in 2009.
Just making the final of an Olympic Games is in itself a feat but the hotly contested 1500m is one of the most challenging tasks an athlete can face. In Beijing Bahrain’s Rasheed Ramzi won in 3:32.94. Just how close Van Deventer was to making the podium was the fact that just 0.61sec covered the athletes that finished from third to seventh .
There’s no doubting that Van Deventer is champing at the bit right now. And he’s carry a bit of form as well. On Saturday he won a 4km regional cross-country event in Delta Park, Johannesburg. Nothing wrong with that but consider thisÔÇª it came after a 20km training run on the same morning.
“It has been a great feeling getting fit and starting to get into racing shape again. I think If I get the qualifying time once the pressure will increase, knowing that I have to do it again, but at this stage I’m just taking it day by day.” Van Deventer told Road to London 2012. “Fitness is good, There have been a few session that I have done in training that shows I’m in the right kind of shape to qualify, but i will only truly know once I start racing again.”
Getting back into the racing environment is what Van Deventer needs most now and with the local season having ended at the SA Open Championships in Pretoria last week, Europe is the way to go. “Yip, I’m heading over to Europe next week, my first race is a very small meeting in Germany. Don’t think I will have much competition there. Nothing else is confirmed yet, but hopefully I will get another race in before Hengelo in the Netherlands. No time targets for the first race, I will just go out and run as hard as I can and get the feeling back. But at Hengelo I have to target the qualifying time.
“After Hengelo I will run at least another five or six races, just waiting for final arrangements, and confirmation.”
And the knee, how has that stood up to the increased training levels as a period of hard racing looms? “I do get pain now and then, but its not serious and over the last few weeks its had no interference with my training. The knee is feeling good, I’ve had a nice solid training block without any interruptions. Every week I’ve made improvements in fitness, so I’m looking forward to competing again and chasing the two qualifying standards.”