Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 142, June 2021 Issue 142, June 2021 | Page 56



Tickets Booked

Check out some of the latest news to come out of the South African Track and Field scene , including a number of athletes hitting the qualifying marks and adding their names to the team list for the Tokyo Olympics in July-August . – BY WILHELM DE SWARDT & SEAN FALCONER
Wenda Nel

Wenda Getting Back to Best

In early May , Wenda Nel qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games when she won clocked 55.16 seconds for a 400m-hurdles event in Potchefstroom . In doing so , she proved she is a fighter in the true sense , as the past three years have not been easy . She was diagnosed as having COVID last year , but her frustrations started long before then , in 2018 .
Up to her bronze medal performance at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia , Wenda seemingly could do no wrong . She had consistently been one of the top 20 hurdlers in the world since 2014 , and by 2018 was one of the 10 fastest hurdlers . A definite highlight was her fifth-place finish at the 2015 World Championships , and that same year she improved her personal best time to 54.37 .
However , after her medal-winning performance in Australia , she was unable to dip under 55 seconds again , and she began suffering progressively worse injuries . Midway through the 2019 season she actually stopped running , as it felt to her like she was getting slower with each race , and thus she says 2020 was sort of as a blessing in disguise , despite contracting Covid , as she had proper time to recover .
“ Equally important was that I had time to think about what happened over the last three years . It made me realise that nothing lasts forever . I can ’ t run forever , and there comes a time when you need to quit . I don ’ t know when that is going to be , but that is why I must make the most of every moment , and enjoy it while I am doing so . Long story short , I got my passion back .”
According to Wenda , it was sort of an anticlimax when she ran the 55.16 , at the time the third-fastest time in the world this year . “ When I crossed the line and realised what I had achieved , I was excited . I wanted to share that moment , but there were no spectators . There was not even a stadium announcer . But what excites me is that I know I am capable of going faster , because I still made mistakes during my race . Who knows what can happen once my execution is near perfect ?”

Gift Posts SA ’ s Sixth Sub-10

“ It feels amazing ,” said an elated Gift Leotlela after he crossed the finish line in 9.94 seconds to win the gold medal in the 100m at the USSA Chammpionships in Joburg in mid-May . And moments later , when told his time was legal after the wind meter had been checked all he could utter was “ Wow ... wow !” This made him the sixth South African sprinter to officially dip under 10 seconds for 100 metres – his 9.94 just weeks earlier at the South African Champs in Pretoria cannot be counted due to an illegally strong following wind . More importantly , it means Gift has also qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games .
According to the Tuks sprinter , he realised that he had a good race in his legs after clocking 10.02 in his semi-final . “ I had good start in my semi , and over the latter stages of the race , I purposely slowed down to save my legs . In the final , my only goal was to execute my technique to perfection . I again had a good start , and then it was a case of running flat-out until I crossed the finish line .”
Just two weeks earlier , Gift was part of the South African 4x100m relay team that won gold during the World Relays Championships in Poland , and his sub-10 was just the latest chapter in a remarkable comeback story . He won a silver medal in the 200m at the 2016 World Junior Championships in Poland , and added a fourth place in the 100m . He also qualified for the Olympics that year , in the 200m , and at 18 years and two months , he was the youngest track and field athlete to represent South Africa in Rio .
Having run 10.12 to set a South African 100m junior record , he went on to finish third in the 200m at the 2017 SA Senior Champs in Potchefstroom , clocking 20.20 and pushing Wayde van Niekerk and Akani Simbine all the way to the line , but then he began struggling with injuries . First , he was sidelined by a lower back fracture , then his hamstrings began to act up . In November last year , he tore the tendons in his knee , but now he is fully fit again for the first time in nearly four years .
Gift Leotlela
Images : Reg Caldecott
56 ISSUE 142 JUNE 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za