Wenda Nel advances to 400m hurdles semi-finals: I definitely have more to show
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CAPE TOWN - It was not a “smooth race”, but Wenda Nel believes she can produce an even quicker time after qualifying for the 400m hurdles semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
The nine-time South African champion was up against Dutch star Femke Bol in her heat, and despite being unable to run a sub-56 time, she still managed to reach the next round with a third-place finish in 56.06 seconds.
That is well off her season’s best of 55.16, and still adrift of her best ever time of 54.37.
Bol cruised to a 54.43 victory in the heat, holding her fire for the championship rounds as she has a personal best of 52.37, the fourth-fastest time in history, so she is a definite medal contender.
Nel has already matched her performance from Rio 2016, where she also reached the semi-finals, but that doesn’t mean that she is satisfied with her Olympic career ending at that point in Monday’s second semi-final at 1.45pm SA time, where she will go head-to-head with American superstar Sydney McLaughlin.
The 21-year-old is the world record-holder with a time of 51.90, and is the favourite for the gold medal ahead of American compatriot Dalilah Muhammad (52.16) and Bol (52.37).
Another strong medal contender, Ukraine’s Anna Ryzhykova, has a personal best of 52.96 and has also been drawn in Nel’s semi-final.
“It’s been a rocky road since I’ve been here, to actually be able to get to this day, to be in the blocks healthy and strong for the Games. But in spite of that, I am just happy and grateful that I could’ve competed today. It was not a smooth race, but I did enjoy it a lot,” Nel, who celebrated her 33rd birthday on Friday, said from Tokyo on Saturday.
“I think, in a way, I was a bit lucky to get the slower heat, to get the automatic qualifier to go through to the semis. But definitely, I have more to show, more to give, and looking forward to the semi-final.
“I am almost a second off my season’s best, so like I said, it was not a smooth road to here – had a bit of ups and downs to get to the Games. But still grateful and healthy, and just going to give my best and definitely try and dip under that 56 at least – you never know, maybe under the 55!”
With only the top two athletes in each of the three semi-finals receiving automatic qualification for Wednesday’s final, that leaves just two more spots for the ‘fastest losers’ to advance.
So, Nel will almost probably need a new personal best to have a chance, but at the moment, the Tuks Sport athlete is just soaking up the Olympic experience.
“To be able to participate and compete at the Olympic Games is just like the ultimate for any sportsperson, and I am just grateful for the opportunity to represent my country, and just once again also show to myself the joy I find within competing, and just to be able to participate as an elite athlete,” she said.
“With all the protocols of Covid and all the other regulations, it is a bit different. But despite that, it’s still fun and we enjoy ourselves. They look after us very well, and it’s great to meet other people from the other sports as well, from our country. We support each other quite a lot.”