By Mark Etheridge
Birthday girl Wenda Nel will be looking for any sort of gift in the 400-metre hurdles at Thursday night’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.
Nel turned 27 on Thursday and the race will be another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that will hopefully all fall into place at next month’s IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China.
She’s had a great season thus far, having booked her place in the South African squad for China.
In Thursday’s race at the DN Galan event, only two of her rivals have gone under the 54sec mark this season, Denmark’s Sara Petersen (53.99) and world champion Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic (53.76)
Only two athletes are slower than her 54:37 run in Beijing earlier this year. They’re Commonwealth Games silver medallist Eilidh Child (54:46) and Sweden’s Elise Malmberg (55.88).
Coach Irma Reyneke is looking forward to her charge’s run on Thursday. ‘We’ve basically had three goals with Wenda this season.
‘They are to enjoy what you’re doing and she’s definitely doing that, she genuinely sparkles before each race. Then the second goal was to run world champs qualifying times and she’s done that in 100% of her races this year. And thirdly to go and run well at worlds!’
Reyneke says that Nel is a good learner. ‘She’s learning so much every race and there is so much room for improvement. She’s now beginning to get the feeling of how fast she’ll have to run to break 54sec and is very excited because there are still a few little corrections to make… the start, and then between the third and fifth hurdle where she loses the field and then she comes back strong at the finish again.
‘We’ve got a plan for Stockholm and she’s been working hard to be able to maintain contact in that section.’
Also in track action on Thursday will be Anaso Jobodwana and Carina Horn. Jobodowana who broke the SA 200m record before compatriot Wayde van Niekerk became the first SA man under 20sec.
Horn, whose recent 11.06 best in the 100m only has one equal in the shape of Evette de Klerk back in the 80’s, is up against a top field, spearheaded by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
Field action sees long jumpers Khotso Mokoena and Zarck Visser in action and there’s just one SA women’s field athlete in Sunette Viljoen in the javelin.