Llewellyn Herbert, South Africa (400m hurdles)
Born 21 July 1977, Bethal, Mpumalanga Province.
1.85m/ 84 kg. Lives in Faerie Glen, a Pretoria suburb.
Son Keanu, born 2002.
Manager: Peet van Zyl. Coach: Nico van Heerden. Club: Rentmeester-Tuks AC
One of the true stars of SA athletics of the past eight years, and one of many talented intermediate hurdlers the country has produced. Athens will be his third Olympic Games. To date, he boasts an Olympic bronze (2000), a World Championship silver (1997), a World Student Games gold (1997) and a World Junior championship silver (1996).
Like many schoolboys, Herbert had a passion for rugby and athletics. His hurdling career started about age 14 in Bethal. Coach Jannie Viljoen spotted his talent and persuaded him to have a go at the event. Both moved to Pretoria, where Viljoen continued coaching him through all his highlights and misfortunes until after the 2003 World Champs.
First major international competition shortly after 19th birthday in Atlanta Olympics — finished 7th in heat, but gained valuable experience. Ended the year as world’s fastest junior (48.76) and silver medalist (49.15) at World Junior Championships in Sydney.
1997 was a wonderful year. While a student at Pretoria Technikon, he claimed national record in March with a 48.35 at Pietersburg and clocked same time six days later in Pretoria. Victories in Stuttgart (47.97) and Nice (48.17) GPs caught world’s attention before World Championships in Athens, where he set a new national record of 47.86 taking silver behind Stephan Diagana. Capped season with victories in the big Zurich (48.54) and Brussels (48.02) GPs, the World Student Games in Catania (48.99) and finally the Tokyo GP, where he equaled his national record. Member of the RSA 4 x 400m relay team that finished 5th in Athens; his leg of 43.9 was another highlight.
Injuries and sinus problems hampered him in 1998 and he missed both the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur and the IAAF World Cup in Johannesburg. Ended year as world’s 12th fastest, 48.43. The year 1999 was similarly disappointing: he missed both the Seville World Championships and the All Africa Games in South Africa.
Returned strongly in 2000, bettering 48.50 eleven times and 48.00 thrice, winning big in Paris (48.41), Lausanne (47.98), Monaco (48.18) and Brussels (48.30), and topping things off with a powerful bronze in Sydney—47.81 NR.
More bad luck followed in 2001 and 2002. A torn leg muscle ruled him out of the early European season and left him not fully ready for the Edmonton World Championships, where he did not get beyond first round. Recovered well enough to finish second to Felix Sanchez in the final Goodwill Games in Brisbane (48.93). Injured again in 2002, when he missed Manchester Commonwealth Games, but came back to win African Championship in Tunisia (49.76) and represented Africa in the World Cup in Madrid (7th 50.52).
Made determined return in 2003. After surprise defeat by 2002 World Junior Champion, L.J. van Zyl in the SA Championships in Port Elizabeth (49.86)—dethroning Herbert as champion for the first time since 1996—he did well to qualify for the World Championships final in Paris, only to fall over the last hurdle when on way to a medal Sanchez.
Another fall followed in the 2004 national final in April, but since then, under new coach Nico van Heerden, has lost more than 10 kg and comes to Athens as one of three South African 400 hurdlers in the world top 10. Against his best time of 48.50 in 2003, has run 48.03 this year in Lausanne, making his “good friend” Felix Sanchez (47.86 in Lausanne) aware of his presence.
Yearly progression: 1995 - 51.25; 1996 - 48.76; 1997 - 47.86; 1998 - 48.43; 1999 - 47.83; 2000 - 47.81; 2001 - 48.52; 2002 - 48.02; 2003 - 48.50; 2004 - 48.03.
South African Senior championships: nine, seven in 400m H (1996-2002), and two in 110m H (1996-97).
Records: South African Senior (seven): 1997 - 48.35 (twice), 47.97, 47.86 (twice); 1999 - 47.83; 2000 - 47.81. African Junior: 1996 - 48.76.
Herbert loves super-bikes—has one of his own—and fast cars, and whilst in Europe he likes to look at the latest cars on the market that are not yet available in South Africa. He also collects special swords or blades. He likes movies but dislikes watching sport on TV except WWF wrestling.
He cherishes the memory of Athens 1997, where he was beaten by France’s Stephan Diagana. The race put him on the map and made him a household name on international circuit. But he considers his bronze medal in Sydney the highlight of career to date.
His greatest disappointment also goes back to Sydney because, he says, “I really wanted to win gold and I felt I was ready more than ever. I thought I had the beating of Angelo Taylor and company, particularly because I had beaten Taylor at the 1996 World Juniors. But, it turned out differently and I was forced to stand up after being defeated by Taylor and Al-Somaily. I got compensated with a new national record of 47.81. All in all it turned out for the better and made me a better and stronger person.”
In spite of various leg injuries that caused him to miss two Commonwealth Games and the Edmonton World Championships, Herbert can reflect on a wonderful career with numerous highlights. However, a gold medal in a global championship is still a dream and very much on his agenda.
Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF "Focus on Africans" project. Copyright IAAF 2004.