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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

More depth needed to produce world class female athletes as Nel dominates U19 400m hurdles

The lack of top class female performers in both the junior and senior ranks in South African athletics is a cause for serious concerns that requires urgent intervention. That just 4 of the 34 member Olympic team that represented the country at #Tokyo2021 were women, highlights a problem that is even more serious when one considers that only one of those four women took part in a track event. Commonwealth Games bronze medalist Wenda Theron Nel was that athlete, but at 33 year old's best years are behind her with no clear heir to the throne she has commanded for the last decade. Thankfully there is a young pretender.

18-year old Anja Nel produced a new Twizza Super School Series record when she won the girls U19 400m in a time of 1:01.56 at the Ruimsig Stadium on Saturday. Running alone from gun to tape the Matric pupil at Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool in Pretoria won by almost a full four seconds from second placed Lerize Viljoen. Feeling that she could have dipped under the magical minute had she had someone to push her, Nel bemoaned the lack of competition admitting that she will have to run senior races in order to prepare for the World Athletics U20 Championships which take place in Colombia in August.

Nel won both the 400m hurdles and the 400m flat race (55.82) at the The 2022 Twizza Super School Series National Final where Affies Meisies finished second in the girls category. Photo Credit: Marius Nortje.

"One actually needs competition to run your best time, because I feel I could have run better," she told #TheTopRunner immediately after the race. "I am likely to be part of the World U20 Championships team so there's a lot of preparation to be done before that. I hope to do my best there. Hopefully I can run against seniors so that they can pull me and put me under pressure," said the girl who is the holder of a 57.63 personal best.

That Nel is head and shoulders above her competitors will come as no surprise to many who have followed the crop of 400m hurdlers produced by coach Maritza Coetzee at Affies. Zeney van der Walt won gold in the same discipline at the 2018 World U20 Championships while Cherize Eilerd was named in last year's Olympic preparation squad as a junior. Coetzee believes that the country has a wealth of female athletic talent, but it's all about the quality of coaching that young girls receive.

Nel enjoying training at Afrikaanse Hoër Meisieskool in Pretoria. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

"When they start running at 14 years old then they all want to achieve something. Then around 15 and 16 they begin to develop, so that is a crucial time to keep motivating them. I do it because I like to make a difference in children's lives. To see someone starting out from nothing and seeing them going further makes me happy. For example with Zeney she had never won the national junior title but today she is a double world champion. So I like going the extra mile because there aren't very many people there," said Coetzee.

Coetzee's dedication can been seen in her school's performance at the The 2022 Twizza Super School Series National Final which saw an impressive total of 77 teams from 59 schools take part. Although Menlopark High School proved to be a force to be reckoned with, claiming gold in all three categories (Boys’, Girls’ and Mixed Team Competition), Affies Meisies finished second in the girls category with victories in both the U17 and U19 Girls 400m hurdles as Nel claimed victories in the 400m flat race as well.

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