London 2012 Paralympics hero Arnu Fourie ran himself back into form with a victory in the 200-metre (T44) finals at the Nedbank National Championships for Physically Disabled, presented by SASAPD, in Pretoria on Monday.
Since his heroics at London 2012, where Fourie won a gold as part of the South African relay team and set a world record in the 200m, the sprinter took time off to recover and has only recently returned to the track to start training again.
With the World Championships looming large in Lyon, France in July, Fourie used the Nedbank Championships as the perfect springboard to start his countdown to the French finale, and was relatively happy with his run on a warm Highveld afternoon.
Fourie said he loved running in front of his home crowd at the Nedbank Championships, and would have chosen no other venue to start his preparations. ÔÇ£It’s always good to get the first run out of the way, and it’s always a privilege to run here at nationals in front of your home crowd,ÔÇØ Fourie said.
ÔÇ£I’m happy with my run, but I’m on a different phase of my preparation. It all builds up to the World Champs in July. It was quite hot when I was warming up, but the weather was great and it was a great run to have.ÔÇØ
There was some apprehension before his run, as Fourie wasn’t quite sure what to expect from himself, but despite being pushed all the way by his relay team-mate Samkelo Radebe (who runs in the T45 class), Fourie had enough to hold out in the last 30 metres.
Fourie said he was happy with the rest he had after London and is currently working on putting a lot more speed into his start in the sprints, something he hopes will reach his goal in Lyon in the highlight of the Paralympic Calendar this year.
ÔÇ£After London, we rested for a month or so and then the focus shifts to July. It all is part of the plan to work towards France. You never know what to expect for your first race and I’m happy for now.
ÔÇ£I want to get faster over the first 30m out of the 100 and we’ve been building on strength and power to get that speed up but I’m pretty confident we will kick on.┬áÔÇ£I’m pretty sure I’ll be in top shape come the end of July.ÔÇØ
There were also a host of top athletes competing at the Nedbank Championships on Monday, and wins for Paralympic world record holder Fanie van der Merwe, Paralympic silver medallist Tebogo Mokgalagadi and London 2012 bronze medallist Jonathan Ntutu, all in the 200m.
Earlier there was a double reason to celebrate as a friendly rivalry saw the African long jump record broken twice in a row.
Mbali Madondo and Elizabeth Lekhele put their friendship on hold in the final of the women’s open long jump (F46), facing off in their attempt to try and break a world record.
Both athletes qualified for London 2012, but failed to get the international qualification that would have seen them go to the games. They have now focused their sights firmly on Rio 2016 in their attempt to achieve gold.
Lekhele jumped an impressive 3.13metres ÔÇô almost half a metre above the African record ÔÇô only to see it broken minutes later by Madondo, who went on to take the gold medal in the category.
Both athletes have now set their sights on the world record, hoping to make a mark in the near future as they continue their Road to Rio.
Madondo said she was excited as she had achieved her goal of achieving the international qualifying standard as well, and believes the rivalry with Lekhele will enable her to push herself to greater heights.
ÔÇ£I’m over the moon. This year it means something ÔÇô I also broke it last year and what makes it great is that I’ve got the classification to compete internationally and have taken the first step to qualify for Rio,ÔÇØ Madondo explained.
ÔÇ£We are friends, and we broke the record together last year. It was exciting to compete against her, and she’s good at long jump. In the past I never had any competition, and she pushed me hard. It’s great to compete against her.ÔÇØ
Lekhele said she appreciated the competition, although she watched in disbelief as she lost the gold medal. Still, this has now inspired her to train harder to make sure she doesn’t finish second again.
ÔÇ£I was expecting to break the world record, but the African record will do. I was shocked; because it was the first time I’ve got silver.┬á I have to train harder ÔÇô she’s served as my inspiration to train harder now,ÔÇØ Lekhele said.
The athletics programme continues on Tuesday, with the evening session likely to see a number of the Paralympic medalists for the first time since their appearance at London 2012.