LJ van Zyl kept his Olympic dream alive at the Rio Games yesterday as he advanced past the 400m hurdles heats and into tonight’s semifinals.
But there were casualties elsewhere in the stadium, most notably four-Games veteran Khotso Mokoena, who failed to progress beyond the qualifying round of the triple jump.
At Beijing 2008, Mokoena saved South African blushes by winning the country’s only medal, silver in the long jump.
But yesterday the old lion faded tamely, managing a best of just 16.51m, nine spots and 10cm outside the top 12 he needed to make the final.
“I’m done now. It’s time for me to hang up the spikes and just move on,” Mokoena said.
He said he might finish off with a couple of small meets in Europe before the end of the season.
Mokoena was on the verge of retiring in 2013, but after getting a new coach, Emmarie Fouche, he had a milestone in 2014, winning the Diamond League long-jump race, breaking the SA triple jump record and winning the Commonwealth Games triple-jump title.
Yesterday, that form was not evident.
“I felt good. It was just unfortunate I was not able to pull it though . . . I’m happy, I can just walk away.”
Alyssa Conley and Justine Palframan both failed to advance past the women’s 200m heats.
In the men’s 400m hurdles, Van Zyl was the only one of the three South Africans there to progress.
Lindsay Hanekom and Le Roux Hamman both finished seventh in their respective heats, which culled some top names.
Kenya’s world champion, Nicholas Bett, was disqualified after a clumsy hurdling display and American Michael Tinsley posted a pedestrian 50.18.
Jamaican Annsert Whyte, clocking 48.37, was the quickest of the morning field, in which 12 runners dipped below 49, including Puerto Rican star Javier Culson.
Van Zyl will probably have to get close – if not beat – his 48.67 season’s best.
“It’s mission completed for the day,” Van Zyl said. “It’s tough out there. I had to cut my warm-up in half [because of the heat].”
Van Zyl ran in the same lane eight in which Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m gold in a world record the previous night.
“It’s [the lane] is still hot, I can still feel the energy,” he joked.