By Mark Etheridge
LJ van Zyl is understandably still on Cloud Nine after Friday’s South African record in the 400-metre hurdles event at the Yellow Pages Series meeting in Pretoria.
But the 25-year-old Pretoria athlete still has at least one foot on the ground. “I was pretty negative for most of last year and just battled in general. Luckily my silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in India gave me renewed hope,” he said on Sunday. “I’ve also got a good support network to help me because obviously you go through rough times.”
Van Zyl, who blitzed to a 47.66 second best, eclipsing Olympic medallist Llewellyn Herbert’s 11-year-old record of 47.81, surprised even himself on Friday night. “I was really surprised to run 47.66 in the rain on a wet track, and with the programme delayed for about 50 minutes because of the rain, really surprised.”
The 2006 Commonwealth 400m hurdles champion, Van Zyl said that Herbert had phoned him to congratulate him after the race. “Yes, he rang me up and we had a nice chat. He’s also very happy for me and said that he always knew that it was going to happen sooner or later.”
What’s next for the low-flying Van Zyl? “Well the trick will be for me to keep the form till World Championships in Daegu, South Korea in August/September this year. But I have done that in 2006 when I got it right to run 48sec from March through to September so I can do it. My next meeting will be the Yellow Pages in Germiston in March where I’ll run the flat 400m. I really want to bring my PB down from its current 45.82sec.”
Van Zyl now slots in as the world’s 20th fastest man ever over the 400m hurdles distance, American Kevin Young’s 46.78 at Barcelona in 1992 still standing as the benchmark of 400m hurdling. But right now Van Zyl, the man from Molteno in the Eastern Cape is on top of the world.