Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 - Page 47

Marioné Fourie ( left ) and Rikenette Steenkamp
Thapelo Phora

Revival of Sprint Hurdling on the Cards

Here ’ s a trivia question for you : Which South African female athlete won three national titles in 2021 and nearly set a national record in the process ? Few sports fans likely know the answer … The honour falls to 19-year-old Marioné Fourie , and even searching the internet to find out more about her heroics does not help much , as the Tuks Sports Science student is somewhat the invisible athlete of South African track and field .
One of the things fans may learn on the internet is that her name can be spelt in three different ways : Marioné , Marine and Marjone . In addition , there are only a few videos of her racing , and one of the few clues that she is one of South Africa ’ s rising stars is found on the SuperSport website : “ Marioné Fourie won the 100m hurdles in a time of 13.56 seconds . She is also the South African Junior Champion . In Paarl , she won in 13.47 .”
It refers to the fact that Marioné is the South African Senior and Under-20 100m hurdles champion , and in May , she won the South African Student Champs title as well . The last athlete to have achieved this ‘ treble ’ is South African 100m hurdles record-holder , Rikenette Steenkamp , who has recently returned to racing after recovering from a COVID infection .
Clash of the Champions
In June , the new and former South African champions duelled it out for only the second time . Marioné had won their first encounter , at but this time Rikenette took the win in 13.23 , with Marione second in 13.26 . That would have been a new South African Junior Record , if not for the wind (+ 2.4m / s ) from behind , making Marioné ’ s time invalid for record purposes . ( Taylon Bieldt holds the Junior Record , having run 13.35 in 2016 in Poland .) Still , the last time that any local athlete apart from Rikenette dipped under 13.30 was in 2017 , when Claudia Heunis ran 13.23 .
Rikenette , who has dominated the shorter hurdles event in SA since 2016 , is excited about her new young challenger . “ For Marioné to run sub-13.30 at 19 is brilliant . Our rivalry could revive 100m hurdles racing in South Africa . How great would it not be if we can have two local athletes dipping under 13 seconds in the same race in South Africa ?” she says . In the history of South African athletics , Rikenette and Corien Botha are the only women to run times faster than 13 seconds .
Marioné admits that she would not have believed it if someone told her that she would win three national titles this season . In fact , before this season , she did not win that often at all – not in major races , anyway – and she had not even dipped under 14 seconds , and she credits her coach , Jaun Strydom , for the rapid improvement in her career . For his part , Jaun confidently predicts that Marioné is capable of going even faster : “ We just need to sort out a few small things in her technique .”

From Street Racer to Olympian

Every athlete has a story to tell about that one moment that changed everything for them , and Thapelo Phora , who will compete in the 400 metres at the Tokyo Olympic Games , is no exception . Speed was always sort of his thing , and growing up in Mamelodi , there was nothing he loved more than to challenge others to race against him . Thapelo always won , and it led to him believing he was the fastest kid in town . And unbeatable .
Then one day , everything changed . Thapelo remembers his friends calling him , telling him there was someone he had to race , and some even predicted that he was going to lose . It was a challenge he could not resist , and as luck would have it , his mom had given him R20 to buy some groceries . Thapelo was so confident in his sprinting abilities that he decided to bet on the outcome of his ‘ duel ,’ reasoning that he would win and his mom would never find out that he used her money to gamble .
“ It was a big mistake , because I got ‘ smoked ’ in the sprint . I was too scared and ashamed to tell my mom what had happened , so I made her believe I lost the money by being negligent ,” says Thapelo . “ But getting beaten was a reality check . It made me realise that I need to find a way to be faster , so I started doing some research . It was suggested that I join a club , and there was talk about Tuks being a good club , so I went to Tuks and told someone in an office I wanted to be a proper athlete . I was introduced to Nico van Heerden , who started to coach me .”
Getting Faster , Going Places
By 2019 , Thapelo had improved his personal best to 45.19 seconds , and he considers making it to the semi-final round during the 2019 World Championships in Doha as his best performance up to now . He clocked a time of 45.24 in that race , and other highlights include winning silver medals at the 2018 African Championships and the 2019 Africa Games .
The past year has not been easy , however , as Thapelo says he needed to resolve some personal issues , which led to him being off the track for nearly a year . He only started racing again in May , and in his first race , he clocked 45.99 , but he is confident of being much faster in Tokyo . “ My goal is to qualify for the Olympic final . I fully realise it will mean pushing myself to the utmost , making peace with the pain that comes with it , but I think sub-45 seconds is doable .”
Thapelo has a good reason for being so motivated . He is the father of a six-yearold daughter , Zinhle , and says , “ I am running to make her proud . But there is more to it . Athletics is my career , it is how I hope to support my family , and the only way I can succeed is to run fast times . The quicker , the better , because then the pay checks are bigger , which means I can send my daughter to the best schools . She must get a good education .”
These news articles were supplied by The Department of Sport ( TuksSport ) at the University of Pretoria . Tuks is home to some of the best sporting opportunities in the world , with more than 30 sport clubs . To find out more , go to www . up . ac . za / tukssport .