Rio de Janeiro - It took only one heave for Sunette Viljoen to qualify for the final of the women’s javelin throw at the Rio Olympic Games for a fourth and final stab at a medal.
Viljoen was in a confident mood in the qualifying round, with her javelin landing at 63.54m for automatic entry into the final.
There was a sense of déjà vu from four years ago when she also marched into the London 2012 final on her first throw before packing up her javelin.
“I felt so relaxed, my throw was very nice, I enjoyed it and when I saw it fly I knew it came out well, and when I saw 63.54m I was very happy with that,” Viljoen said.
In 2012 she was primed for success going into the London 2012 Games as the top-ranked female javelin thrower with her South African and continental record of 69.35m.
Her big night ended in tears as she finished just 48cm short of the bronze medal thanks to Germany’s Linda Stahl final throw of 64.91m.
Viljoen was feeling bullish about her chances in the final without the millstone of being branded the favourite weighing her down.
“It’s comforting to know you aren't the big favourite, and to go into the final as a little bit of an underdog,” she said.
“I’d rather go into it without being the favourite, without expectations on yourself, and the country and everyone expect you to win.
“The javelin is very open this year, so there is not one lady you can pinpoint and say this will be a medal winner.”
Viljoen will go into the final with the sixth-best distance, while 20-year-old Maria Andrejczyk of Poland produced a national record and world-leading heave of 67.11m.
It was an otherwise dreary evening for South African track and field athletes, with national men’s 400m record-holder LJ van Zyl crashing out in the semi-final of his specialist event.
Van Zyl went out hard over the first 300m of the race, but he ran out of speed on the final 50m to finish in fifth place with a time of 49 seconds.
This signalled Van Zyl’s third and final appearance at the Olympic Games after he made his debut in Beijing in 2008.
“I didn't have the legs to finish the race... I went out hard but I knew the other guys would also go out hard,” Van Zyl said.
“I didn't want to leave too much to do at the end, so I thought I would stick the guys, but I didn't have the push over the last 40 metres. I will definitely do one more world champs and one more Commonwealth Games in Australia.”
Training partner Wenda Nel also missed out on a spot in the final of the women’s 400m hurdles, where she employed a similar tactic with the same result.
Nel finished in sixth place at her maiden Olympics with a time of 55.83s - way off her season’s best of 54.47s.
The country’s foremost 110m hurdler, Antonio Alkana, suffered a similar fate, finishing his semi-final in seventh place with a time of 13.55s.
South Africa’s only female long jumper at the Games, Lynique Prinsloo, missed qualification for the final with a best jump of 6.10m with her three attempts.