Wenda Nel was 0.18 sec too slow to qualify in the 400m hurdles for the Tokyo Games, but she is not fazed about it as it is her best race in three years.
The Tuks-hurdler won her heat in 55.58s during the South African Championships at the University of Pretoria. The race was a dress rehearsal for Saturday’s final. The former double world champion, Zeney van der Walt, was second in 56.33s and Taylon Bieldt (Tuks) third in 56.65s. The Olympic qualifying standard is 55.40s.
It is a given that one of the three will win the gold medal. Van der Walt is the defending South African women’s 400m hurdles champion, while Nel has eight national titles to her name. Bieldt is the upstart. She has beaten them both this season.
For now, Nel is not thinking about titles. What mattered was that she dipped under 56 seconds in the 400m hurdles. The last time she did so was during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. She ran 54.61 in the heats and in the final 54.96. The Tuks athlete won bronze.
According to Nel, her aim was to try and qualify for the Games.
‘I want to make the most of every racing opportunity, but hurdling is unpredictable. You can run the perfect race. It also takes only one mistake to miss out on one’s goal. I think I might have been slightly over eager. After the ninth hurdle, I decided to shorten my strides, thinking it will enable me to ‘attack’ the last hurdle. In hindsight, I should not have done so.
‘The positive I can take from the race is that I really felt good afterwards. It bodes well for Saturday’s final.’
Being 32 means Nel is not taking anything for granted.
“There is a revival in the women’s 400m-hurdles racing. Anyone can win at any time. Knowing that I need to be at my best is what gets my adrenaline pumping.”
The former Olympian and South African champion, Leroux Hamman, had reason to smile after winning his 400m-hurdles heat. He clocked 49.70s. Hamman is the only athlete to dip under 50 seconds this morning. The last time the Tuks athlete did so was in 2018. He had clocked 49.22. According to Hamman, he had a change of mindset.
‘It got to a stage where I would always find excuses if I don’t perform well. I realised it served no purpose, so I worked on rekindling my passion for the sport. I think that is why I am faster.’