The 19-year-old high jumper, Brian Raats, will attempt to do what Freitag did in March 2005 (a standing NATIONAL RECORD), which is to jump 2.28 metres.
Over the last few years, South Africa's senior high jumpers have yet to come up with the magic jump that will get people talking. At a real push, 2.25 metres has become the norm when they compete. Mpho Links and Chris Moleya are the only two who managed to go higher. Both jumped 2.27 metres.
But things might change. Last year, when he was only 18, Raats jumped 2.26 metres in Potchefstroom. It was the best performance by a South African high jumper. A definite highlight was winning a silver medal at the 2022 World Athletics U20 Championships in Colombia. He was also the South African junior champion and won silver at the senior championships.
The Tuks high jumper is seemingly not one to set small goals. The ultimate goal would be to set a new South African junior record before the season ends. It boils down to jumping 2.32 metres. If he does, Raats will also qualify for the 2023 World Athletics Championships. Jacques Freitag jumped 2.31 metres in 2001 to set a national junior record.
Some might think Raats is biting off more than he can chew. But a quick glance at the statistics will show that Raats' performances have improved by leaps and bounds over the last three years. In 2020, he jumped 2.06m; in 2021, his best was 2.20m; last year, it was 2.26m.
Raats firmly believes there are no shortcuts to success when it comes to high jumping.
"High jumping is a very technical event. There are so many small techniques you got to master before you are really competitive. I have found that every muscle comes into play when you go for the big jump. Being patient and disciplined is the secret to becoming an excellent high jumper."
Raats is indeed being coached by one of the best: Marco Tamberi. The Italian guided his son Gianmarco Tamberi to win gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan.
High jumping was not always Raats's biggest passion. At primary school, he dreamt of playing professional rugby. Being tall, he played lock or as a flanker.
"My most significant drawback in rugby was that I am really skinny. The coaches kept on telling me that I needed to bulk up. Basically, it meant that I had to eat more. I am not one to eat a lot. I also did not want to because if I got heavier, I probably would not have been able to compete as a high jumper. It was in Grade-9 that I decided to quit playing rugby," said the 1.93 metres tall high jumper who weighs 74kg.
The Tuks high jumper considers his mom his hero, and with good reason.
"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years back. The way she refused to give up on life has genuinely inspired me. It has led to making significant changes in how I live my life. The best of all is that my mom is now in remission."
To relax, Raats loves playing basketball and golf.
"When I have a terrible day on the athletics field, there is nothing I love more than to go and play golf. It is a way to clear my mind and get a new perspective."