UP’s Van der Walt wins silver in 400m hurdles at the World Student Games

Posted on July 11, 2019

Tuks athlete Zeney van der Walt never races to finish second, but there are always exceptions; and Wednesday night's 400m hurdles final at the World Student Games in Napoli, Italy, was one.

The race did not play out quite like the South African champion might have hoped. Italy's Ayomide Folorunso took the lead from the start and never relented, winning in a time of 54.75s. Van der Walt was second in 55.73s, and Norway's Amalie Iuel finished third in 56.13s.

Van der Walt ran a season's best and is seemingly edging closer to the 54.70s she needs to run to qualify for next year's Tokyo Olympic Games.

The 19-year-old has won a medal at every major championship she has competed in over the last three years. These include a gold medal at the World Under 20 Championships in 2018 and another at the World Under 18 Championships in 2017.

Ahead of the World Student Games, Van der Walt's coach, Maritza Coetzee, said the only aim was to win a medal.

"I see this season as Zeney's apprentice year as she is only now starting to compete against older and more experienced athletes regularly.

"Something else she had to adapt to is getting fewer opportunities to race. Last year while still at school she competed in a total of 36 races. [This year] it is only about 11."

Coetzee reiterated that Van der Walt's inexperience was no handicap.

"There is nothing Zeney relishes more than a good fight when racing. One of her best qualities as an athlete is that she will fight until the last metre no matter against whom she is running.

"Her goal at the World Championships in Doha is to at least qualify for the semi-finals. Knowing her, if she does so she will have set her sights on reaching the final. It is going to be a tough challenge. It means Zeney will have to dip under 55 seconds."

Having said that, Coetzee immediately added: "I never want Zeney to settle in her starting blocks with any expectations from me or anyone else to run fast times. The only thing that matters is that she gets to execute the perfect race no matter which event she is competing in. If she does, there is always a chance of her achieving something special."

Last year Van der Walt ran a personal best time of 55.05s in the 400m hurdles.

Earlier this season the Tuks athlete achieved a personal breakthrough when she clocked a time of 52.89s in the 400m at a meeting Sopot, Poland. Only three other local junior female athletes have managed to dip under 53 seconds in the 400m.

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