His inclusion in South Africa's team for the London Olympic Games is the best accomplishment of his short career, says middle-distance athlete Andre Olivier.
Olivier became eligible for selection at the 11th hour when he met the qualifying standard in the men's 800 metres event for the second time at the African Athletics Championships in Benin – a day before the June 30 deadline.
He was among 13 athletes added to the final SA Olympic team announced on Wednesday.
“It is by far my greatest achievement. It is like a Springbok being selected to go to the Rugby World Cup,” Olivier said on Thursday.
“To me it is the highest point an athlete can reach.”
The 22-year-old has been in sizzling form this season, improving his personal best on both occasions that he dipped below the Olympic qualifying mark.
He set the standard for the first time in May when he finished seventh at the FBK Games in Hengelo, clocking one minute, 45.20 seconds (1:45.20) and dipping 0.35 seconds under the qualifying mark.
As the June 30 deadline loomed Olivier was forced to deal with erratic pace setters during the European season as he struggled to set the required time again.
Despite the trying conditions in Benin, he finally booked his place in the team when he crossed the line in 1:45.09 in the final to bag the bronze medal.
“I qualified once in Europe and I knew I had it in me and I just needed a proper race where I could run like I usually do,” Olivier said.
“Luckily in Benin there were a few Kenyans that went ahead and it helped all of us run good times, and fortunately I reached the qualifying time.”
Olivier said he realised that he could compete at the highest level at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
“I won bronze in 2008 at the world juniors and it made me realise that I had it in me to make it.
“So I thought the next step would be the (senior) world champs and the Olympic Games.”
While he had done everything to cement his place in the South African Olympic team, Olivier believed there was a shadow of a doubt that he might not make it.
“I qualified again in Benin and everybody told me that if they did not include me in the team they didn’t know what they expected more from me,” he said.
“It was 99 percent certain and there was that one percent uncertainty in my head.
“My dad phoned me yesterday and told me that he heard on the news that the team was announced and I was included.”
The North-West University student said it was encouraging that he was reaching his peak form shortly before the Games.
“I have been on a continuous upwards curve and my coach and I have been smart this year as we didn’t go out too hard at the beginning of the season,” he said.
“It feels like the training sessions are only getting fun now.
“I am positive that I will be in good shape by the time of the Olympics and hopefully I can peak by then.”
Olivier said he had set himself reasonable targets for the Games and he would take a cautious approach in the qualifying rounds.
“The guys that run 1:42 and the guys that run 1:45 are all the same now,” he said.
“I want to take it step by step. It’s heats first, then the semi-finals, and then I will aim to run hard to reach the finals.
“Then anything can happen.” – Sapa