kevin lancaster

He hasn’t had his best year on the track, but 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl is still one of South Africa’s strongest candidates for a medal if he hits his stride in London.

The 27-year-old has been battling a niggling injury of late which has led to his season’s best performance being an uncompetitive 49,42 seconds – almost a full two seconds off his personal best of 47,66, which he ran in February last year.

Having qualified, along with Cornel Fredericks, for London, Van Zyl looks set to improve on his fifth position finish at Beijing 2008 in this year’s games, after a string of good performances in 2011.

Breaking the national record, twice, he also took bronze at the World Championships in Daegu.

Since then, however, he has not looked like the medal threat he has the potential to be and is currently ranked 38th in the world.

As Team SA’s only other 400m hurdler, the much younger Fredericks has had a more consistent run up to his first Olympic Games, though.

The 22-year-old has progressed rapidly since his shift to the big leagues of senior athletics and is currently ranked 17th in the world.

Fredericks also put in his season’s best performance of 48,91 seconds this year to beat Van Zyl at the Yellow Pages SA Seniors in April, and become national champion.

In the pair’s way of a podium finish, however, are the two favourites for the Games – Great Britain’s David Greene and Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson. Both have run sub-48 times this year and took gold and silver respectively in Daegu.

Van Zyl and Fredericks are also listed as members of SA’s 4x400m relay team, where they could run with one of the Games’ hot properties, Oscar Pistorius.

Van Zyl already has relay experience on a large sporting stage, and was part of the SA team that won silver in the World Champs last year.

The 400m hurdle heats start on August 3.