Athlete Profile

L.J. van Zyl

  • COUNTRY South Africa South Africa
  • DATE OF BIRTH 20 JUL 1985
South African 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl (Getty images)
South African 400m hurdler LJ van Zyl (Getty images)
  • COUNTRY South Africa South Africa
  • DATE OF BIRTH 20 JUL 1985


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 28 July 2008

L.J. (Louis Jacobus) VAN ZYL, South Africa (400m Hurdles) 

Born 20 July 1985, Bloemfontein
1.86m / 75kg
Tuks University Athletics Club, Pretoria 
Second of three children (elder sister, younger brother); parents, Japie and Martie, competed in athletics at school level, lives on a farm in Molteno District, northern Cape Province.    


In a country where rugby claims most burly, strong and fast sportsmen at a young age, Louis van Zyl – who wants to be known as L.J. van Zyl - made what turned out to be the right decision to opt for athletics. He did so after playing rugby at South Africa’s popular annual provincial primary schools tournament.  His many track successes, and his No1 ranking by the IAAF in the 400m Hurdles before the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, have endorsed his decision.  

However, van Zyl’s failure to advance beyond the first round heats in Osaka was a major blow to him but also the best lesson he had ever learnt. It taught him to have more respect for all his opponents and now – on the eve of his first Olympics – he is much happier to be No.3 rather than the No.1 of a year ago.

Although his first names are Louis Jacobus, van Zyl has preferred to be called L.J. since he was a young schoolboy.  To him it is almost as important as success on the track.  A serious, quiet-natured and dedicated young man, he is determined to graduate in physical education in the foreseeable future and he loves to ride a horse when at home on the farm.     
 
Van Zyl’s name appeared for the first time in the RSA Athletics Annual with a time of 22.6 over 200m in October 1999. In March 2000, at 14, he improved to 22.09 in Pretoria and, in his first serious 300m Hurdles race, on the same day, he produced a South African junior record (36.83). It triggered the talent that has blossomed since.     

Yet van Zyl’s international career started on a low note. Selected to go to the 2001 IAAF World Youth Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, and following  times of 50.84 and 51.06 over the 84cm hurdles, and 51.14A (world fastest by a 15-year-old) over the senior (91.4cm) hurdles, he went to Hungary fancied for gold. But he was disqualified in his heat for dragging his leg.  The lesson was learned - it has not happened since.    

In 2002, at 16 (one day before his 17th birthday) van Zyl became World Junior champion in 48.89, a world best for 16 and 17-year-olds and the 6th fastest by any junior. In 2003, he won the national senior title in Port Elizabeth, defeating Llewellyn Herbert, but due to a switch of coaches, and with no global junior event to aim at, his progress stalled.  

The 2004 World Junior Championships, in Grosseto, Italy, were a let-down after the dizzy heights of his 2002 triumph. Van Zyl failed to reproduce his previous form, finished 4th, and also failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics. This remains among his greatest disappointments to date.

Perhaps, though, it was a blessing in disguise. Van Zyl broke all ties with Bloemfontein and moved to Pretoria, where Hennie Kotze, a former 49.26 hurdler, became his new coach. The change was visible early in 2005 when van Zyl expressed a determination “to run in the low 48s towards the middle of the year and, most importantly, to be selected for the team to Helsinki (World Championships).” 

As soon as the second week in February, van Zyl issued warning of what could be expected when he lowered his PB to 48.54 and booked his seat to Helsinki, where he finished 6th. Earlier, he had made his return noticeable with a win at the Athens Grand Prix and he ended the year with 3rd at the World Athletics Final, in Monaco.    

With a brilliant win in 48.05 at the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, van Zyl started 2006 in sensational fashion and went from strength to strength with second places at the World Cup, in Athens, and World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart. Towards the end of the year, he underwent a minor leg operation but, come the 2007 summer season, he would be back in form.

Victory in the Golden League, in Rome in 2007, was most impressive and he also took the All Africa Games title in Algiers, a clear warning that he should be someone to be reckoned with at the World Championships in Osaka.   His immediate targets were to medal in Osaka, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and to join the elite group of intermediate hurdlers below 48sec.    

Now, a year later, the last two of those targets are unchanged. The first went by the wayside when, through an error of judgment, he was eliminated in the first round. Coasting to the finish in first place he relaxed, lost concentration, and four athletes slipped past him.
 
Towards the end of 2007 new headaches dawned.  Firstly, with coach Kotze moving to Saudi Arabia, he had to find a new trainer. He also underwent a minor groin operation that had been troubling since Melbourne in 2006 and which delayed his 2008 competition schedule.   He considers it a success because he has become stronger. His coaching problem was solved by joining forces with Herbert’s former trainer, Nico van Heerden.   

Van Zyl made a cautious start to the domestic season with various minor placings but, come the national championships in mid March, he did enough to win the gold medal. Three fellow South Africa runners had already qualified for Beijing and van Zyl managed to book his seat only when winning the African Championship title, in Addis Ababa, in May. 

While he was consistent in most of the Golden League meetings, the highlight of van Zyl’s campaign in Europe was at the Athens Grand Prix on 13 July, which he won in 48.22 to rank No.3 in the IAAF 2008 Top Lists. He refuses to speculate about Beijing, where he will consider every race from round one onwards a new challenge.       


Personal Bests

100m: 10.3Aw (2003); 10.5A (2001)
200m: 21.10w (2005), 21.20A (2005)
400m: 46.28A (2005), 45.9 (2007)    
400m Hurdles: 48.05 (2006)


Yearly Progression

400m Hurdles: 2001: 51.14; 2002: 48.89; 2003: 49.22; 2004: 49.06; 2005: 48.11; 2006: 48.05; 2007: 48.24; 2008: 48.22.


Career Highlights

2001                3rd        World Youth Championships (medley relay)
2002                1st        World Junior Championships
2002                1st        World Schools Gymnasiade
2004                4th        World Junior Championships
2005                6th        World Championships
2005                3rd        World Athletics Final
2006                1st         Commonwealth Games
2006                2nd        Commonwealth Games (4x400m)
2006                1st         African Championships
2006                2nd        World Cup
2006                2nd        World Athletics Final
2007                1st         All Africa Games
2007                 q          World Championships (eliminated in 1st round heats)
2008                1st         African Championships


Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. ©  IAAF 2008.

Personal Best - Outdoor
Performance Wind Place Date
400 Metres 44.86 Germiston 26 MAR 2011
400m hurdles (84.0cm) 50.30 Pretoria 13 APR 2002
400 Metres Hurdles 47.66 Pretoria 25 FEB 2011
400 Metres Hurdles 47.66 Ostrava 31 MAY 2011
Progression - Outdoor showShow All Graphs
400 Metres Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2011 44.86 Germiston 26 MAR
2010 46.62 Potchefstroom 16 APR
2009 45.82 Pretoria 31 JAN
2008 46.02 Shanghai 20 SEP
2005 46.28 Pretoria 30 MAR
2004 46.41 Pretoria 20 FEB
400m hurdles (84.0cm) Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2002 50.30 Pretoria 13 APR
2001 50.85 Johannesburg 16 JUN
400 Metres Hurdles Show Graphshow
Performance Place Date
2014 48.97 Shanghai 18 MAY
2013 49.11 Velenje 04 JUN
2012 49.42 Pretoria 05 APR
2011 47.66 Ostrava 31 MAY
2011 47.66 Pretoria 25 FEB
2010 48.51 Nairobi 30 JUL
2009 47.94 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 28 JUL
2008 48.22 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 13 JUL
2007 48.24 Roma (Stadio Olimpico) 13 JUL
2006 48.05 Melbourne 23 MAR
2005 48.11 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 10 SEP
2004 49.06 Grosseto 16 JUL
2003 49.22 Durban 11 APR
2002 48.89 Kingston, JAM 19 JUL
2001 51.14 Pretoria 20 APR
Honours - 400m hurdles (84.0cm)
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
2nd IAAF/Westel World Youth Championships h2 DQ Debrecen 12 JUL 2001
Honours - 400 Metres Hurdles
Rank Mark Wind Place Date
14th IAAF World Championships 5h2 50.05 Moskva (Luzhniki) 12 AUG 2013
The XXX Olympic Games 6h5 50.31 London (OP) 03 AUG 2012
13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 3 48.80 Daegu 01 SEP 2011
IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup 2010 5 49.97 Split 04 SEP 2010
IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final 2 48.74 Thessaloníki 12 SEP 2009
12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 6sf1 48.80 Berlin (Olympiastadion) 16 AUG 2009
6th IAAF/VTB Bank World Athletics Final 5 49.95 Stuttgart 13 SEP 2008
The XXIX Olympic Games 5 48.42 Beijing (National Stadium) 18 AUG 2008
5th IAAF World Athletics Final 8 49.62 Stuttgart 22 SEP 2007
11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 4h1 49.71 Osaka (Nagai Stadium) 25 AUG 2007
10th IAAF World Cup 2 48.35 Athína (Olympic Stadium) 16 SEP 2006
4th IAAF World Athletics Final 2 48.08 Stuttgart 10 SEP 2006
3rd IAAF World Athletics Final 3 48.11 Monaco (Stade Louis II) 10 SEP 2005
10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 6 48.54 Helsinki 09 AUG 2005
10th IAAF World Junior Championships 4 49.06 Grosseto 16 JUL 2004
IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships 1 48.89 Kingston, JAM 19 JUL 2002


Focus on Athletes biographies are produced by the IAAF Communications Dept, and not by the IAAF Statistics and Documentation Division. If you have any enquiries concerning the information, please use the Contact IAAF page, selecting ‘Focus on Athletes Biographies’ in the drop down menu of contact area options.


Updated 28 July 2008

L.J. (Louis Jacobus) VAN ZYL, South Africa (400m Hurdles) 

Born 20 July 1985, Bloemfontein
1.86m / 75kg
Tuks University Athletics Club, Pretoria 
Second of three children (elder sister, younger brother); parents, Japie and Martie, competed in athletics at school level, lives on a farm in Molteno District, northern Cape Province.    


In a country where rugby claims most burly, strong and fast sportsmen at a young age, Louis van Zyl – who wants to be known as L.J. van Zyl - made what turned out to be the right decision to opt for athletics. He did so after playing rugby at South Africa’s popular annual provincial primary schools tournament.  His many track successes, and his No1 ranking by the IAAF in the 400m Hurdles before the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, have endorsed his decision.  

However, van Zyl’s failure to advance beyond the first round heats in Osaka was a major blow to him but also the best lesson he had ever learnt. It taught him to have more respect for all his opponents and now – on the eve of his first Olympics – he is much happier to be No.3 rather than the No.1 of a year ago.

Although his first names are Louis Jacobus, van Zyl has preferred to be called L.J. since he was a young schoolboy.  To him it is almost as important as success on the track.  A serious, quiet-natured and dedicated young man, he is determined to graduate in physical education in the foreseeable future and he loves to ride a horse when at home on the farm.     
 
Van Zyl’s name appeared for the first time in the RSA Athletics Annual with a time of 22.6 over 200m in October 1999. In March 2000, at 14, he improved to 22.09 in Pretoria and, in his first serious 300m Hurdles race, on the same day, he produced a South African junior record (36.83). It triggered the talent that has blossomed since.     

Yet van Zyl’s international career started on a low note. Selected to go to the 2001 IAAF World Youth Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary, and following  times of 50.84 and 51.06 over the 84cm hurdles, and 51.14A (world fastest by a 15-year-old) over the senior (91.4cm) hurdles, he went to Hungary fancied for gold. But he was disqualified in his heat for dragging his leg.  The lesson was learned - it has not happened since.    

In 2002, at 16 (one day before his 17th birthday) van Zyl became World Junior champion in 48.89, a world best for 16 and 17-year-olds and the 6th fastest by any junior. In 2003, he won the national senior title in Port Elizabeth, defeating Llewellyn Herbert, but due to a switch of coaches, and with no global junior event to aim at, his progress stalled.  

The 2004 World Junior Championships, in Grosseto, Italy, were a let-down after the dizzy heights of his 2002 triumph. Van Zyl failed to reproduce his previous form, finished 4th, and also failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics. This remains among his greatest disappointments to date.

Perhaps, though, it was a blessing in disguise. Van Zyl broke all ties with Bloemfontein and moved to Pretoria, where Hennie Kotze, a former 49.26 hurdler, became his new coach. The change was visible early in 2005 when van Zyl expressed a determination “to run in the low 48s towards the middle of the year and, most importantly, to be selected for the team to Helsinki (World Championships).” 

As soon as the second week in February, van Zyl issued warning of what could be expected when he lowered his PB to 48.54 and booked his seat to Helsinki, where he finished 6th. Earlier, he had made his return noticeable with a win at the Athens Grand Prix and he ended the year with 3rd at the World Athletics Final, in Monaco.    

With a brilliant win in 48.05 at the Commonwealth Games, in Melbourne, van Zyl started 2006 in sensational fashion and went from strength to strength with second places at the World Cup, in Athens, and World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart. Towards the end of the year, he underwent a minor leg operation but, come the 2007 summer season, he would be back in form.

Victory in the Golden League, in Rome in 2007, was most impressive and he also took the All Africa Games title in Algiers, a clear warning that he should be someone to be reckoned with at the World Championships in Osaka.   His immediate targets were to medal in Osaka, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and to join the elite group of intermediate hurdlers below 48sec.    

Now, a year later, the last two of those targets are unchanged. The first went by the wayside when, through an error of judgment, he was eliminated in the first round. Coasting to the finish in first place he relaxed, lost concentration, and four athletes slipped past him.
 
Towards the end of 2007 new headaches dawned.  Firstly, with coach Kotze moving to Saudi Arabia, he had to find a new trainer. He also underwent a minor groin operation that had been troubling since Melbourne in 2006 and which delayed his 2008 competition schedule.   He considers it a success because he has become stronger. His coaching problem was solved by joining forces with Herbert’s former trainer, Nico van Heerden.   

Van Zyl made a cautious start to the domestic season with various minor placings but, come the national championships in mid March, he did enough to win the gold medal. Three fellow South Africa runners had already qualified for Beijing and van Zyl managed to book his seat only when winning the African Championship title, in Addis Ababa, in May. 

While he was consistent in most of the Golden League meetings, the highlight of van Zyl’s campaign in Europe was at the Athens Grand Prix on 13 July, which he won in 48.22 to rank No.3 in the IAAF 2008 Top Lists. He refuses to speculate about Beijing, where he will consider every race from round one onwards a new challenge.       


Personal Bests

100m: 10.3Aw (2003); 10.5A (2001)
200m: 21.10w (2005), 21.20A (2005)
400m: 46.28A (2005), 45.9 (2007)    
400m Hurdles: 48.05 (2006)


Yearly Progression

400m Hurdles: 2001: 51.14; 2002: 48.89; 2003: 49.22; 2004: 49.06; 2005: 48.11; 2006: 48.05; 2007: 48.24; 2008: 48.22.


Career Highlights

2001                3rd        World Youth Championships (medley relay)
2002                1st        World Junior Championships
2002                1st        World Schools Gymnasiade
2004                4th        World Junior Championships
2005                6th        World Championships
2005                3rd        World Athletics Final
2006                1st         Commonwealth Games
2006                2nd        Commonwealth Games (4x400m)
2006                1st         African Championships
2006                2nd        World Cup
2006                2nd        World Athletics Final
2007                1st         All Africa Games
2007                 q          World Championships (eliminated in 1st round heats)
2008                1st         African Championships


Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. ©  IAAF 2008.