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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I'm really blessed that I have such an amazing coach' - Zeney van der Walt on top at ASA Awards

In what can be described as a breakthrough year for her, Zeney van der Walt was rewarded for her 2022 exploits when she was crowned female athlete of the year at the Athletics South Awards last night. Although she announced herself on the global stage when she won the World U20 400m hurdles title as a schoolgirl in 2019, the 22-year-old's performances last year confirmed that she is here to stay as one of the country's leading senior international performers.

"2022 was really an amazing year. We were just blessed with everything that happened," she told #TheTopRunner at the glamorous awards ceremony which took place at the Thaba Eco Estate in the south of Johannesburg where top runners (senior and junior), coaches, technical officials and media were honoured. "There were a lot of things that I learned during the races and during the whole year of competition."

van der Walt in action at the Athletics World Championships in Eugene, Oregon in the United States where she reached the semi-finals and set a personal best which she bettered two weeks later. Photo Credit: Supplied.

One of the most important things that van der Walt will have learnt is how to deliver her best when it mattered most. After starting by winning the national title in April in 55.75, the Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool alumna was crowned African Champion in Mauritius two months later in 56.00 where she was also part of the 4x400m relay team that won gold.

But her best efforts came late in the season on the international stage as van der Walt produced a 54.81 personal best to reach the semi-finals at the World Championships in Oregon, before improving on that mark just two weeks later when she took the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in a lifetime best of 54.47. For this she credits her coach Maritza Coetzee whom she began working with when she was just thirteen years old.

"It is difficult to make sure that you peak at the right time, but my coach knows what she is doing and she just puts me in the races that she knows I need to race. She helps me to be well-prepared for the big races. 2023 is our ninth year working together. I just think we are a great team. We know each other. I think it's important to have such a great connection with your coach because they need to know you and your body as well. I'm really, really blessed that I have such an amazing coach," she said.

van der Walt and Simbine (centre) celebrate after being crowned Female and Male Athlete of the Year respectively at the ASA Awards. ON stage with the them are (from left) SASCOC President Barry Hendricks, a representative of Qatar Airways, Gauteng MEC for Sport Morakane Mosupye and ASA President James Moloi. Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi was also in attendance and delivered the keynote address. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

And now that she has converted junior potential into senior results, all eyes will be on the lanky one-lap hurdler in a year when she is aiming to do even better on the track as she focuses on the Athletics World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in August. "To compete against the best in the world is a dream come true and to win medals also on the big stage is what we have been working for. It's definitely something that comes from the Lord. He gives me the strength to do that and have that fighting spirit. There's a lot of stuff that my coach and I are still working on, so we are really excited for the 2023 season."

In recognition of her achievements van der Walt walked away with R15 000 from ASA as well as two business class tickets to any of Qatar Airways' more than 150 destinations worldwide. Akani Simbine won the same prize after winning the male athlete of the year. Simbine's coach Werner Prinsloo was named Coach of the Year. World U20 Championships gold medalists Miné de Klerk and Lythe Pillay won the U20 Athletes of the Year, while McKyla van der Westhuizen and Benjamin Richardson took the Female and Male Prospect of Year respectively.

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