TRACK & FIELD
YOUNG GUNS on the Rise
In spite of the long , enforced break from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic , there are a number of young track and field athletes beginning to make their mark on the South African Track and Field scene , including these four sprinters and hurdlers from the Tuks Athletics Club in Tshwane . – BY WILHELM DE SWART & SEAN FALCONER
Taylon Bieldt ( centre ) Benjamin Richardson ( right )
Shaking Up the Hurdling Status Quo
In recent years , the women ’ s 400m hurdles event in South Africa has been dominated by eight-time SA Champion Wenda Nel , but in the last few years she has faced a stiff challenge from former double world champion at Youth and Junior levels , Zeney van der Walt . This season has seen another young athlete begin to stamp her authority on the event , with Taylon Bieldt winning the single-lap hurdles title at the Gauteng North Championships in 56.17 seconds in late March .
Wenda and Zeney are the only SA women to have run faster than 56.17 in the event since 2016 , but they were beaten on the day by 22-year-old Taylon ’ s massive new personal best , shattering the 57.88 mark she clocked in 2020 . What made it even more notable is that Taylon only returned to the 400m hurdles last year , after a successful four-year sabbatical to focus on the 100m hurdles , the event that she represented SA in at the World Youth and Junior Championships .
While the win came as a great boost to Taylon ’ s confidence , she has made sure not to get carried away with it . “ It was only one race , and I was lucky on the day to have been the better athlete , but getting to beat Wenda and Zeney did not mean I am suddenly South Africa ’ s best female 400m hurdler . Everything can change in the next race .” And that it did … In their next race after the Champs , during the Avanti International Meeting at Ruimsig , Wenda turned the table on Taylon , but she had her work cut out to run a 56.16 and finish ahead of Taylon ’ s 56.26 .
Wenda actually played a significant role in Taylon ’ s changing fortunes . According to Taylon , there was a stage last year when she felt really frustrated . “ No matter how hard I trained , the times I ran remained the same , but Wenda encouraged me not to lose faith in my ability , telling me that my breakthrough race will happen when I least expect it . And when it does , everything is going to change . Wenda might not know it , but she has been my mentor for a while . I have been watching what she does before a race and afterwards , and all the time , I am learning .”
Taylon considers switching from the 100m hurdles to the 400m hurdles as one of the best decisions she has made in her athletics career . “ I love the challenge of the 400m hurdles , especially the hard training . There are days it feels like I might ‘ die ,’ but the next day I can ’ t wait to do it all over again . I don ’ t think I would have ever reached my full potential in the sport as a 100m hurdler , because it seems I am more of an endurance athlete .”
Big Man Bags Double Gold at Juniors
Benjamin Richardson is tall , and genuinely fast , but that is not all ... The 18-yearold is also a double South African Champion . At the South African Age Group Champs in Paarl in April , the TuksSport High School learner won the under-20 men ’ s 100m in 10.41 seconds and the 200m in 20.97 . And it looks like the young man is capable of going even faster . During the Gauteng North Championships , he proved it when he won the 100m in 10.31 and the 200m in 20.65 .
It may be hard to believe , but Benjamin was actually not considered a good enough sprinter a few years back , so he played rugby and cricket as well . However , pure speed always gets his adrenaline pumping , and that is why he chose athletics . He says the 200 metres is his favourite event : “ I am not always the fastest out of the starting blocks – usually , I only start to catch up after 50 metres . That is why I prefer the longer sprint .”
While still young , Benjamin is 1.90 metres tall and weighs 86kg , so he can hold his own with the older sprinters , but for now the ‘ big man ’ says he is not focused on testing himself against South Africa ’ s best . It is a case of first things first , and he knows he first needs to be faster . Also , when it comes to role models , he is his own man . “ I do take note of what is happening in international sprinting , but I don ’ t try and emulate anyone . In the end , it about what I can do , and how hungry I am to achieve my goals .”
According to Paul Gorries , who coaches Benjamin , he is a raw talent . “ He has only recently joined the ‘ programme ,’ so there is still a lot of work to be done . His start is actually not too bad for someone his size , the problem is that it is not consistent . He gets it right in one out of three races .”
Images : Reg Caldecott
46 ISSUE 143 JULY 2021 / www . modernathlete . co . za