'I'm enjoying the ride' - World Student Games gold medalist Marlie Viljoen reflects on great 2023
Reflecting on 2023, Marli Viljoen is more than satisfied with the way that she performed. The 23-year-old from Pretoria East achieved unprecedented success when she clocked 52.38 to win the gold medal in the 400m at the World University Games in China. And that triumph was simply a culmination of months of intense preparation that saw her set two new personal bests over her favourite 400m event and the 800m.
"It was amazing," she told #TheTopRunner. "It was a great experience and I'm so happy to have done it in China and still be able to be at my best. For me my biggest goal was just to go to World Students so everything else was just a bonus. Winning the gold medal was a total bonus. I'm very happy. I'm just enjoying the ride because this is by far the best season I've ever had in my life," said the woman who also claimed at the silver medal at the ASA behind Miranda Coetzee at the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships.
For this year's results, the University of Pretoria top runner credits her coach Tannie Ilze Wicksell. Wicksell who has been Viljoen's coach since she was a junior, introduced her to an endurance-based approach that saw her competing over both one and two laps of the track. The approach bore fruit as Viljoen clocked a lifetime best 2:11.34 in Januray and then ran a 51.81 career best at the Germiston Stadium in April to secure qualification for the World Championships on ranking.
"My coach and I are more on a distance based programme focussing on speed endurance. After the South African season I put in six weeks of very hard work to get the tank full again so that I could complete my European season. So I basically split the year in two and I think. that was the success for me. So we are difeinitely distance-based and that fitness got me through the year."
With 2023 now behind her, Viljoen is looking ahead to 2024 where securing individual qualification for her first Olympic Games will be top of mind. And to make sure that happens, she along with a number of South Africa's top sprinters including the likes of Akani Simbine and Zeney van der Walt are currently in a relay training camp in Potchefstroom. And with the experience of two World Championship appearances under her belt, she can only be hopeful of improving even more ahead of Paris 2024.
"For me it's just mind over matter now. I just need to push through. Unfortuntaley this year our relay team fell out of the rankings but hopefully for next year I think we have a good chance because we have three girls for the 400m going indivdually (Miranda Coetzee, Zeney van der Walt and me). So I think if we focus on the relays next year we'll definitely be able to do 400m individual and the relay."