Pretoria – Hurdles prodigy Andries van der Merwe will follow in the footsteps of compatriots Lehann Fourie and Anaso Jobodwana in becoming the latest South African to going to an American university on an athletics scholarship.
Van der Merwe, who won gold in the 2011 World Youth Championships, has been granted a scholarship and will be a student at Texas A&M University from next year.
The 19-year-old left last week for the United States, where he will train with, among others, reigning 110m hurdles world record holder Aries Merritt. The former Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Affies) pupil will be looking to hone his skill with some of the best professionals in the business.
Van der Merwe is back on track after an 18-month break from the sport.
During his time away, he tested his mettle as a winger for his school’s first team rugby squad. But his stint in the schools rugby set-up served only to prove that his true talents lay on the track.
In January, Van der Merwe will begin his studies. One of his training partners there will be Wayne Davis, who holds the world youth record, as well as the world junior record, in the 110m hurdles with a time of 13.08 seconds.
The Tshwane local said going to the US was the best decision he could have made for his career. “From athletics’ point of view, going to the US is definitely the best decision I could have made.
“The Texas A&M University has been dominating the NCAA as the champions for four out of the past five years. The fact that I will be coached by one of Merritt’s former coaches will be an added bonus,” Van der Merwe said.
The hurdles sensation will need some time to adjust to the senior hurdles, which are significantly higher than those used by junior athletes. “I will not be very competitive during the next two years, because I will have to get used to running the higher hurdles.
“But what will count in my favour is that I will receive proper coaching to do the basics right. I consider it an apprenticeship as a 110-hurdles athlete,” he said.
The objective is to be ready in time to represent South Africa at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“My goal is to be at my best in three years’ time so that I can represent South Africa at the Olympic Games in Rio.”
Van der Merwe, already has some experience training with Merritt .
“Merritt is a very nice guy with no airs about him who obviously enjoys his athletics and is willing to help other athletes wherever he can.”
In 2011, Van der Merwe burst onto the scene when he won the 110m hurdles at the IAAF Youth World Championships in France.
Then he won a gold medal at the Youth Commonwealth Games on the Isle of Man. A best time of 13.39sec was the fastest run by a youth athlete for the season and put him 21st on the all-time youth ranking.