Zyl celebrates birthday with world gold
19 July 2002 - South
Africa’s Louis van Zyl ran an impressive 48.89 - a new personal best and
Championships record - to win the 400m hurdles final.
Van Zyl whose birthday
falls on the 20 July (he turns 17) was astonished by the massive performance he
had just achieved. Entering the Championships with a personal best of 50.32 he
lowered his time by 43 tenth of a second, an eternity for a 400m hurdles.
“I just felt so good.
Tomorrow is my birthday and this is a fantastic present.”
To give credit to the
extraordinary performance of the South African, it is worth mentioning that van
Zyl is now the sixth fastest junior on the All-time lists. He entered the very
select group of sub-48.9 junior runners which includes former Olympic medallist
Danny Harris and World Championshps medallist Llewelyn Herbert.
“I think that what I
have just achieved is something special. I wasn’t sure I could do it. The
Americans who were running on both sides of me started off so fast that at some
stage I felt I had to do something. I could feel them throughout the whole race.
I knew they were in front but I didn’t discourage.”
And the last part of
van Zyl’s race was a masterpiece. One of those powerful finishes that reminds us
of Edwin Moses, the King of the 400m hurdles.
“Approaching the 8th
hurdle I said to myself ‘you need to relax and just let your legs run’. And all
of a sudden I managed to change gear. I couldn’t really tell you what happened
then; I just knew I was running fast.”
Crossing the finish
line with his arms spread to the sky, van Zyl’s victory wasn’t just a one-day
story. One of the fastest qualifiers in IAAF World Youth Championships in
Debrecen last year, he was disqualified for an illegal clearance of the barrier.
“That day was terrible
for me. I can still remember the feeling of emptiness that surrounded me. From
then on I focused on this year’s world junior title.”
Under the attentive
eyes of Mum and Dad, van Zyl could not contain his joy. “My family is here, my
parents made the trip all the way from South Africa to watch my race and I am so
happy that I ran my best 400m hurdles with them in the stands.”
Martie van Zyl who
struggles to stop the tears dropping from her eyes is understandably proud of
“He’s been working so
hard for this title, he’s very conscious in training and such a nice person. He
really deserved this. I was scared all the time while he was running, but I
think it is normal. It is a mother’s nature to fear for her child,” she said.
“I wish I could stay
and visit this wonderful country but I have to go back to school. The classes
started yesterday and I can’t afford to miss any more lessons,” he said.
Van Zyl who has just
turned 17 will defend his World Junior title in Grosseto 2004.