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Fri Apr 25 10:14:01 SAST 2014

LJ and Caster try to find form

DAVID ISAACSON | 07 June, 2012 10:260 Comments
The Yellow Pages Interclub competition
LJ van Zyl during the Yellow Pages Interclub competition at Tuks Stadium on April 05, 2012 in Pretoria, South Africa
Image by: Lee Warren / Gallo Images

LJ VAN Zyl says he is struggling with an injury niggle but he is vowing to return to his best for the London Olympics next month.

Van Zyl, the 400m hurdles bronze medallist at last year’s world championships, has withdrawn from tonight’s (Thursday night’s) Diamond League meet in Oslo.

“There has been some speculation as to my physical preparation leading up to the London Olympic Games and I would like to assure the South African public and sponsors on some of the facts,” said Van Zyl, who has struggled to break 50 seconds this season after cracking a 47.66s personal best last year.

“I pulled out of Oslo due to a lingering knee irritation. My coach Hennie Kotze has restructured my competition planning and training program to allow myself time to rest for a few days and we will resume training on Monday...

“If everything goes according to plan, I will attempt to defend my African title at the African Championships in Benin from June 27-30.

“We are confident that all measures are in place for a successful build up to London Games.”

Van Zyl is one of SA’s key medal hopes, having also won silver as part of the 4x400m relay team at the world championships.

The Olympic heats for the 400m hurdles are on August 3 with the final three days later.

Caster Semenya, another medallist from the world championships, has also been struggling for form.

Hezekiel Sepeng, the first black South African to win an Olympic medal when he took the 800m silver at the 1996 Atlanta Games, believes she should stop competing and focus on training.

“The good thing is that (she is) not injured like (Mbulaeni) Mulaudzi. (She) must back off from competition and just train.”

Semenya, with a 1min 55.45sec personal best, has not been inside two minutes in Europe. She finished second to reigning Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo in her first big outing, but was then blown away in the next outing.

“Losing too often can affect you psychologically,” warned Sepeng, saying he himself had a mental block when he raced against Wilson Kipketer, the world record-holder at the time.

“If I felt my legs were tired and Wilson was just ahead of me, I would say I will settle for second.

“The 800m is Caster’s territory. But if everybody comes up and beats you they don’t respect you. If they know you’re not in shape and you go in front in a race, they will chase you down.”

Sepeng said when he stepped on to the track ahead of the 800m final at the 1999 world championships in Sevilla, he knew he was going to get a medal. “I knew I had run with everybody in the field and beaten them. You must remember that most of the guys are just trying to get into the final, especially the Europeans. For them it’s a great thing to make a final.

“Not everybody is trying to get a medal — you really have only three or four rivals.”

Sepeng knows what it takes to come back from poor form — he helped a despondent Mulaudzi fight back to win a silver at the 2004 Games in Athens.

Mulaudzi had returned from illness and then endured two poor races in the build-up to the Olympics. “After Zurich he said ‘I want to go home’. I said to him ‘no, you have four weeks before you race. You can do three weeks of hard training and then recover in the last week. You can do it.’”

Hopefully Semenya and Van Zyl can do it too.

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