SA athletes ready for stiff competition

“It’s nice to know it’s not just me out there any more and there are others around to chase this old lady,” joked South African athlete Geraldine Pillay (30) on Tuesday.

The lithe athlete, who appeared to be in prime condition, and some of South Africa’s other top athletes were visibly excited and more than happy to share their goals and expectations ahead of the fourth Yellow Pages Series meeting at Germiston on Friday night.

With only five athletes having qualified for the Beijing Olympics so far, the next four weeks are crucial to the hopes and dreams of the remainder of the athletes.

Once they have attained the Olympic “A” qualifying standard, and to avoid a repeat of the poor performances in Athens 2004, the athletes will remain in South Africa and continue their training here to improve their conditioning. They will not compete overseas until they have completed their training camp at Potsdam, Germany, in June.

Pillay, a 100m and 200m sprinter, will make her first appearance of the season at Germiston where she is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Evette de Klerk, who set the South African 100m record at the same track 18 years ago at 11,06 seconds. Pillay came close in 2005 at 11,07 seconds, but she is itching to give it a go on Friday night.

She is training at the High-Performance Centre in Pretoria, and Athletics South Africa has provided a strong support structure to assist her with her overseas training programme.

In jovial mood, Pillay said she has her work cut out for her but is feeling well-prepared and healthy, and she is enjoying the competition from the younger athletes.

One of these stars of the future is Isobel le Roux (18), who is concentrating on the 200m, which she won comfortably in both her two previous outings, at Potchefstroom and Durban.
With a personal best of 23,32 seconds, she is just looking forward to appearing in the same race as Pillay and hoping to benefit from her experience.

“For me to compete against Geraldine is a dream come true, and hopefully I can provide her with a bit of competition,” she said.

LJ van Zyl, who has settled down well with his new coach, Nico van Heerden, is optimistic that all the 400m hurdle athletes will qualify together on Friday night. The formidable quintet of Alwyn Myburgh, Ter de Villiers, Ockert Cilliers, Pieter Koekemoer and Van Zyl are all in with a chance.

“It would be great if we could all qualify together, with me in front of course,” said the amiable Van Zyl, who patiently explained the importance of running the 200m and 400m flat races as well during the season, to build up speed and endurance.

Athletics South Africa high-performance coordinator Wilfred Daniels said scientific tests have shown that all the athletes are at least 1,5 % fitter than they were a year ago. The athletes have undergone fitness tests every six weeks since 2006 and, without exception, all the results are up from 2007. This, together with a sturdier support structure in place, bodes well for the humble but enthusiastic South African athletes.—Sapa

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