Jacques Freitag (Frytahg), South Africa (high jump)
Born 11 June 1982, Warrenton, Northern Cape Province. Grew up in Bronkhorstspruit (50km east of Pretoria).
Single. 2.04m/95kg. Second of two children (older sister). Only tall person in family. Mother, Hendrina Pieters was 1973 South African high jump champion (PB 1.74m).
Manager: Peet van Zyl. Coach: Bob Cervanka. Club: Rentmeester-Tuks AC, Pretoria.
Freitag is the first athlete to win gold medals at the IAAF Senior (2003), Junior (2000) and Youth Championships (1999).
Athletics career started at age 10 when he won 1993 South African Primary Schools high jump (1.53m). Mother was first coach. Came into national prominence at 16, winning HJ competition in Pretoria in October 1998 with 2.08m. Won national youth title six months later with 2.20, and in July improved to 2.25 only eight months after jumping 2.08. Entered inaugural World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and won his first global title at 2.16. In October, still only 17, selected for SA senior team to the 7th All-Africa Games. Finished equal 4th with 2.20.
Jumped 2.30m shortly before Sydney Olympics but not named to SA team. Compensated two months later at World Junior Championships in Santiago, in spite of arriving without spikes. “I qualified for the final wearing jogging shoes,” he recalls. “During the final, with the bar already at 2.17, my new spikes finally arrived, but they were too small! I kept them on and ended the competition with large blisters—but also with the gold medal.” Won on count-back after a first-clearance 2.24.
In June 2001 improved national senior and junior records to 2.31m, but at World Champs in Edmonton failed to qualify for final (2.15). 2002 started with seven meetings at 2.30 or better and three new South Africa records: 2.32m in Germiston, 2.33m in Durban and then 2.34 and 2.37 at national championships (both also African records). A few months later suffered serious ankle injury and underwent surgery in Finland. Missed 2002 Commonwealth Games and World Cup.
Recovered well in 2003 and won Rome GL and high jump festival in Eberstadt before comfortably taking his third global championship—the senior one—in Paris.
In February 2004 injured ankle again on European indoor circuit. Returned home after another operation in Finland, with a third scheduled for March. Plans changed at suggestion of podiatrist Ron Holder and coach Bob Cervanka, an American in South Africa since 1989, better known as pole vault specialist. Treatment began in South Africa and drastic alterations were made in his run-up and step-off.
Returned to competition in Potchefstroom in late June, clearing 2.27. Set off for Europe for three low-key meetings as tests. The first in Heraklion July 4 proved discouraging (2.20 for 13th), but a 2.34 win nine days later in Salamanca (site of Xavier Sotomayor’s WR) restored confidence. This was reinforced by a 2.31 win a few days after that in Sweden, and not badly dented by another 2.20 for 2nd in a small Swiss meeting on August 8.
“I am still trying to master the new technique,” Freitag said a few weeks ago. “It is not easy. I am hopeful to do well knowing that hardly more than one athlete is really capable of 2.36 and more.”
Injured his ankle again August 13 in Athens when trying out new spikes. After treatment by a specialist flown in from London, Freitag announced that he would compete on Friday despite torn ligaments.
Career progression: 1998 - 2.08; 1999 - 2.25; 2000 - 2.30; 2001 - 2.31 (AfJR); 2002 - 2.37 (AR); 2003 - 2.35; 2004 - 2.34.
Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2004.