The 400m-hurdles for women could be one of the most exciting events on the local athletics calendar this season as for the first time in nearly ten years there will be a real rivalry.
It is going to be a classic scenario of experience versus youth when Wenda Nel (Grigora Training Group) settles in the blocks to race Zeney van der Walt (Tuks).
Nel won her first senior national title in 2010, and ever since she continued to dominate. The last time she got beaten by a local athlete was in 2013. In her defence, she did take a slight tumble during the final at the South African Championships in Stellenbosch. However, she still managed to finish second.
A definite highlight for the Grigora-athlete was winning a bronze medal during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games as well as being fifth in the 2015 World Championships final.
Van der Walt is a double world champion having claimed the 400m-hurdles titles at the last World Youth as well as World Junior Championships. She is also the South African Junior record holder after running 55.05 during last year’s South African senior championships at Tuks.
Van der Walt’s record-breaking performance was without doubt one of last year’s most exciting races. It was only her second serious clash with Nel.
Heading towards the last hurdle, it was no foregone conclusion that Nel would win. She and Van der Walt were running shoulder to shoulder. Unfortunately, Van der Walt made the slightest of errors. Not that it meant the fight to win the coveted title got any less intense. Nel just managed to pip Van der Walt on the line winning in 55.01s with the young up-start finishing in 55.05s.
Nel still remembers while congratulating Van der Walt on setting a new record how she predicted that it is going to be only a matter of time before she claims the senior record as well.
“Jokingly I have asked Zeney to refrain from doing it too quickly as I would love to have a first go at Myrtle Bothma’s record. I reminded her that she got a lot of time to do as she is only starting out but my days of being truly competitive are slowly getting numbered.”
The Grigora-athlete is looking forward to duelling it out with Van der Walt acknowledging that it is going to be tough but also exciting. The chances of her continuing to win by several metres as she has done over the last few years are slim.
“Zeney proved with her performances during the World Championships that she is a true fighter who will take the fight to the line every time she can,” said Nel who is not planning to race the 400m-hurdles before the South African Championships.
The last time there was some sort of rivalry in the women’s 400m-hurdles was in 2009 when Janet Wienand was still racing.
During this weekend Gauteng North Championships at Tuks Nel will be competing in the 200m and 400m while Van der Walt will be representing Tuks in the 400m-hurdles at the Varsity Athletics meeting in Potchefstroom.
By Wilhelm de Swardt