TuksAthletics goes for Olympic gold

Posted on December 15, 2020

The postponement of this year’s Tokyo Olympics came as a welcome opportunity for additional preparation for the TuksAthletics team. We spoke to Danie Cornelius, programme head of TuksAthletics, about the journey to the coveted gold medal.

While a broken knee and shattered dreams might seem like the end of a journey for some, for Danie Cornelius, programme head of TuksAthletics, it was the beginning of a journey that will hopefully culminate in an Olympic gold medal.

Cornelius is working with Paul Gorries and the men’s 4 x 100m relay team – comprising Simon Magakwe, Thando Dlodlo, Akani Simbine and Clarence Munyai – which hopes to win gold at the upcoming 2021 Olympics to be held in Tokyo from 23 July to 8 August.

He explains that while he was never a top athlete and sportsman at school, the tide turned for him in April 1979 when he outperformed the top athletes at the school athletics meet. His father saw potential in him and arranged for specialised training with top long jump coach Owen van Niekerk.

After an excruciating injury in the dying minutes of a rugby match he’d participated in reluctantly, Cornelius’s journey as an athlete came to an abrupt end with a severe knee injury. Several surgeries later with no clear diagnosis, he attempted the BEd Degree in Human Movement Sciences. However, he struggled to complete the movement requirements of the degree. It was at this point that he joined the SA police force.

“There I met Willie Olivier, one of the top national coaches in the hurdles, who took me under his wing and sent me on my first coaching course. In my first year of coaching, one of my long jumpers won the bronze medal at the SA Junior Championships. Looking back, I realise now that my knee had to be sacrificed in order to be able to assist other athletes to achieve their goals and dreams,” Cornelius says.

“In 2011, I was appointed to my current position by Kobus van der Walt, the then director of TuksSport. When I walked into my office for the first time, I never realised it at the time, but the circle was complete, albeit 30 years later.”

The work of establishing a record-breaking men’s relay team began in 2019 in Doha where Cornelius met with officials from the World Athletics (WA) Organisation at the World Championships. A chance encounter led to Cornelius and Paul Gorries, coach of the relay team, meeting.

“I was fortunate enough to interact with Paul and all the other athletes, many of them from TuksAthletics,” Cornelius says. “Over the past two years, TuksAthletics hosted relay clinics to prepare the men’s 4 x 100m relay athletes. But when I saw the passion and the motivation in training, warm-up and during the competition, I knew we had to be involved on a higher level.

“During the heats and final, I just knew we had the ability to compete for the gold medal. I spoke to Paul to find out if he would be willing to relocate to Pretoria, as he was based in Cape Town at the time, and explained my vision. We had the same vision and he agreed to relocate, and work on the dream of bringing the gold medal to South Africa at Tokyo.

“The acting director of TuksSport, Toby Sutcliffe, and I met with the president of Athletics SA (ASA), Aleck Skhosana, and also shared our dream with him. He immediately bought into the initiative and ASA appointed TuksAthletics as the Relay Preparation Centre, myself as the manager of relay preparation and management, and Paul Gorries as the ASA national relay coach.”

Cornelius believes that the SA team stands a good chance of bringing gold home because of some developments that have taken place in the athletics world.

“With Christiaan Coleman being suspended by the WA Integrity Unit and Justin Gatlin not getting any younger, the Americans have only Noah Lyles to depend on in Tokyo,” he says. “With Jamaica also now a shadow of themselves due to the absence of Usain Bolt, the race for the gold medal in the 4 x 100m relay in Tokyo is wide open. The WA World Relay Championships is taking place in Chorzow, Poland in May 2021 – this will be a great warm-up for the Olympics and an indication will be given of who the top three will be in the run-up to the Olympic Games.”

He admits that the pandemic and its subsequent restrictions has had a major impact on the team and their training schedule, but that things aren’t entirely bleak. “The positive thing about COVID-19 is that we would have had a hectic year, with many athletes not being able to rest and prepare for Tokyo. COVID-19 provided us with this and more – Simon Magakwe is on the ‘wrong side’ of 30, and his career was coming to an end, but the rest gave him a new lease of life and extended his shelf life by a few more years as he could rest and recover completely. Also, no other country in the world escaped the pandemic, putting us all on equal footing for Tokyo.”

With all the major stumbling blocks out of the way, Cornelius said they have their eyes firmly fixed on making it onto the winners’ podium next year.

“South Africa has a rich history of sprinters, but never have we prepared for the 4 x 100m relay for men on this sort of scale,” he says. “Our time for Olympic glory awaits us. Then we are on to develop our female 4 x 100m relay team for 2024 and beyond!”


- Author Masego Panyane

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

FAQ's Email Us Virtual Campus Share Cookie Preferences