Wayde’s ‘good advice’ can help Lythe to Olympic glory

LYTHE Pillay screams in delight after winning the 2022 world junior 400m title in Colombia. Can he repeat the feat at the Paris Olympics? EPA

LYTHE Pillay screams in delight after winning the 2022 world junior 400m title in Colombia. Can he repeat the feat at the Paris Olympics? EPA

Published May 18, 2024


WATCH out, world: Lythe Pillay is the next 400m sensation from South Africa who can rock the Olympic Games.

Following Wayde van Niekerk’s incredible world record in winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Pillay is part of the new generation of South African athletes who are pushing themselves to make it on the biggest stage.

Pillay has already made a name for himself after becoming the 400m junior world champion in 2022 in Cali, Colombia, and but now he is going all out to succeed at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Now 21, Pillay was still a teenager when he formed part of the SA 4x400m relay team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The squad of Van Niekerk, Pillay, Zakithi Nene, Thapelo Phora and Ranti Dikgale were unable to advance past the heats in Japan, but it’s set to be a different story in Paris.

The current group, which included Van Niekerk, Pillay, Nene, Gardeo Isaacs and Antonie Nortjé, claimed a silver medal at the recent World Relays in the Bahamas as they trailed Botswana, with usual favourites the United States disqualified in the heats for a technical infringement.

So there’s a real chance of an SA medal in the men’s 4x400m relay in Paris.

Pillay will make his first Olympics appearance in the 400m itself in Paris after clocking a superb qualifying time of 44.31 seconds to clinch the SA title in Pietermaritzburg a few weeks ago.

That was a new personal best for Pillay, and considering that he seemed to have much more left in the tank at the SA championships, he will be pushing for a sub-44-sec time over the next few weeks, with the athletics competition at the Olympics taking place from August 1-11.

Speaking at this week’s unveiling of the first batch of athletes for Team SA at Sascoc House in Johannesburg, Pillay said he was delighted to be selected.

“It’s a massive honour putting on the green-and-gold. It’s difficult and easy to describe, as there is no higher level other than running for your country,” he said.

“Every time I put on the green-and-gold – as much as I am running for my family, my support system and my team – now I am running for everyone back home.

“I judge my value off of that; not just making my immediate environment proud, but my whole country proud. It’s a pretty big achievement to have.

“The first difference (from the Tokyo Olympics, which was held without spectators due to Covid-19) is that I have now qualified for the individual 400m, not just the relay. A little birdie tells me that it might be a little bit noisier than Tokyo!

“I do feel that having had the exposure at my first Olympics has been very monumental in terms of giving me that experience and putting me on that platform to get used to competing under that large amount of pressure.”

Pillay is excited about the possibilities for the relay team, and said working with Van Niekerk has helped him grow his strategy and tactics going forward.

“It’s a complete vibe! One thing that really contributes to it is our chemistry, especially with the 400m guys,” he said.

“We do tend to trade advice or things we picked up, and it’s a really healthy environment, especially with someone like Wayde. He is a very decorated athlete, he is a master in his class.

“I’m very blessed to have had more of a personal account with Wayde, touching base, seeing what things we have in common.

“He has given me good advice, especially when it comes to navigating my career, as an athlete and individual; how to make smart decisions, especially on and off the track.

“When it comes to actual race-day, he has been very open as to how he approaches races; how he might alter his race tactics, depending on who is in the race with him.

“I saw him implement it a bit, but seeing that athletics is an isolated sport, you think athletes would hang onto what works for them, their tricks and whatever under the hat.

“The way he approaches a race is almost completely different to how I approach a race, but being able to see what works for him and how I can maybe adjust my race in the build-up to running at that level or running at that sort of intensity, has sprung up in my mind.”

Pillay will begin the final part of his preparations for Paris at tomorrow’s Diamond League meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, where he will line up in a strong field that includes two athletes with 43-second best times – Zambia’s Muzala Samukonga (43.91) and Jamaica’s Rusheen McDonald (43.93) – while Botswana’s Bayapo Ndori set his personal best of 44.10 this year.

“I’ll be looking forward to it because it will be my Diamond League debut,” said Pillay.

“The whole aim of that is to get myself used to that kind of competition, throwing myself into a race against names I’ve grown up watching, and names that I see performing really well, as those are the names I will be encountering in Paris.

“This is more of a mental prep, to get myself stuck into that high level of competition, and see how I react to that.”

Meanwhile, Van Niekerk and 100m star Akani Simbine will be in action at the Atlanta City Games today.

With no 400m race scheduled as the specially laid straight track at Piedmont Park can only cater for distances up to 200m, Van Niekerk will line up in the half-lap race, where he will face Tokyo Olympics 400m champion Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas, as well as Jamaicans Oblique Seville and Antonio Watson, and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.

Simbine’s main rival in the 100m will be Kenyan powerhouse Ferdinand Omanyala, while the leading Americans are Ronnie Baker and Terrance Laird.