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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

van Zyl thrown a lifeline to race marathon in Italy on Sunday as she tries to qualify for Tokyo 2021

South African road running sensation Irvette Van Zyl's hopes of qualifying for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics remain intact after she was thrown a lifeline. The Olympian will run the Xiamen Tuscany Elite Marathon race on Sunday in Siena, Italy. The race will be held on a flat 5km loop on the roads surrounding the Ampugnano Airport in the Italian city giving marathon runners a last chance to qualify for the Tokyo 2021.

Irvette van Zyl in action during the Cape Town leg of the Spar Women's 10km Challenge in April 2016 as she prepared for the Rio Olympics. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

She will be accompanied by another South African Gerda Steyn on race day. Van Zyl was supposed to participate in the NN Mission Hamburg Marathon race that has been postponed to 18 April due to Covid19 concerns in Germany. The resulting travel bans forced organisers to find a new venue. The NN race will now take place at Enschede Airport next week in Holland without van Zyl who struggled to get a VISA and so chose to run in Italy instead.

The 33-year-old Nedbank Running Club athlete is delighted to get another chance to book her golden ticket to Japan later this year. She feels blessed to have made the trip because her VISA was only approved yesterday just hours before boarding her flight to Europe last night. "I'm so excited that I got the Visa this morning," said Van Zyl speaking to us from OR Tambo International airport before she boarded her flight.

"Everything was stressful but I'm so relieved that I'm on my way to Italy. But everything happened at the last minute if I can tell you. I tried with the Dutch industry since I knew that Hamburg won't work with the emails. And I only got the appointment with the Italian embassy last week Wednesday. Luckily I got my papers today after a week's wait. Everything was hectic as I had one paper missing from the Italian federation but luckily I got it sorted. Last night I was thinking I'm not going to be on this plane but I remained positive " explains the mother of two.

Van Zyl lapped competitors as she won the 5 000m at the CGA Track & Field Meet in February as part of her marathon training. Photo Credit: CGA.

van Zyl who holds a personal best of 2:31:26 over the marathon distance achieved during the 2013 London Marathon where she finished in tenth position is hoping to post 2:29:30 to be in the South African squad to Asia in July. Steyn is the only South African woman that has managed to achieve Olympics standard with her scintillating run during the 2020 London Marathon. van Zyl believes the flat course will give her every chance of achieving her dream.

"My target is to run 2:29 which is the Qualifying time then I would be happy," explains former Spar 10km Grand Prix winner. "The route is favourable for me to do achieve that. I love running in circles on the road but not on the track. It's a great opportunity for me to do well since I have been training hard with no races happening in South Africa. So this is a good test to see what level I'm at because it been a while since I last ran Marathon (Soweto Marathon) in 2019," she said

van Zyl winning the Soweto Marathon. Photo Credit: MWMEDIA.

The three-time Soweto Marathon champion still has unfinished business with the Olympics after the disappointment she suffered at rio 2016 where she didn't start the marathon because of an injury. She says that nearly made her to quit the sport. But she is ready to to race again. "The last time I was overseas was five years ago (Rio Olympics) and I told myself I'm finished," explains the former Two Oceans Half Marathon winner. "I nearly quit the sport after the disaster I had in Rio. In my mind, I thought I would run the 2024 Olympics because I still have unfinished business. But since nothing is happening then why shouldn't I try to qualify now," she said.

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