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10 Jan, 2013

Walk!

910
Walk!

Race Walking World Cup 50km, Saransk, Russia, 13 May

I had pre-qualified for the World Cup after winning the South African 50km Championships in Cape Town in October 2011, clocking 4:22:12. I set about my training with a ferocious intensity, building up my strength and core stability through a vigorous gym and cybex programme, coupled with core stability classes and regular sports massages. I managed to clock over 2500km in 23 weeks from 5 December (averaging 110km/week), and in the final four weeks before the race, I had recorded personal best times over 10km on road (43:14) and track (43:45) in addition to 20km road (1:26:35). My training sessions were regularly at the necessary race pace (4:46/km) required to achieve the IAAF A standard of 3:59:00, as required by both ASA and SASCOC, so I was really confident going into the race.

 

RUSSIAN HEAT

I started off conservatively, walking within myself and in a group that I felt was on course for the A standard. We started increasing the pace from 10km in the warm conditions on a challenging course in downtown Saransk, situated approximately 700km south-east of Moscow. Our group of three went through halfway in 1:57:30 and I was on course for a 3:55:00. We increased the pace slightly, going through 30km in 2:20:43, which was also a personal best. The heat throughout the race was a constant concern, though, and I regularly sponged my body, pouring bottles of water over my head at each of the water tables. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my experienced seconding team that supported me throughout the race, team coach Carl Meyer and team manager Oliver Mundell, representatives of the SA Race Walking Committee and veterans themselves of the 1993 Race Walking World Cup in Mexico.

 

I suffered muscle cramps from 33km and my pace slowed, so at 38km I had exactly one hour and five seconds in which to complete the final 12km. I was encouraged by my team mates that were strewn around the course in addition to my international race walking friends, and I had to dig really deep for the final 4km after the leaders had lapped me for the second time. This was my only chance for Olympic qualification and I had to trust in my training and my mental willingness to embrace the pain and to take my body to a new level of discomfort, whilst many athletes were suffering around me.

 

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

I finished in 3:57:57 and 26th place, recording 10km splits of 47:15; 46:50; 46:38; 48:09 and 49:03. I had recorded a new personal best time, national record and African record, and in so doing, achieved my first IAAF A standard, thus meeting the ASA and SASCOC Olympic criteria! I also became only the second athlete from the continent to break the four-hour barrier, and the first ever to record an IAAF A standard over 50km. I was completely elated and tearful after the race, knowing that I had just qualified. The realisation of a childhood dream is without description and it is a moment in your life that you can never really prepare for.

 

It was surreal to arrive back in Johannesburg to TV crews from the SABC and SuperSport, and then to be contacted by journalists and radio presenters the entire week. I have never experienced this, and it was truly fantastic. I am so looking forward to representing not only myself but South Africa in London, and want to thank everybody that made it possible for me to get there, my family, girlfriend, friends, training partners, coaches, sponsors, employers and more. I think I'll only believe it fully when I am standing on the start line in London on Saturday 11 August.

 

FOLLOWING IN FOOTSTEPS

Fifty-two years ago George Hazel represented South Africa in both the 20km and 50km race walking events at the 1960 Rome Olympics. I hope that my participation in 2012 will kindle a new generation of young South African race walkers that will aspire to compete on the international stage. I later learnt that my performance in Russia could also qualify me for the 2013 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow, so I am looking forward to the coming years!