South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen throwing to gold - Melbourne (Getty Images) © Copyright
Sunette VILJOEN, South Africa (Javelin)
Born: 6 October 1983, Johannesburg
1.68m / 68kg.
Coach: Terseus Liebenberg
Belgrade is a city that will always revive the happiest of memories for Sunette Viljoen, a physical education teacher in Rustenberg, who, with one fantastic throw of 65.43m, made sure that the world’s top women javelin throwers will take serious notice of her. She set the athletics programme of the 2009 World Student Games alight on the first day with a tremendous throw in the qualifying round.
“With my personal best at 62.24 I approached the Games hoping to improve my own record and to take a medal home, although I thought to myself that, since I had won the Commonwealth Games gold in Melbourne in 2006, I could repeat that feat and become the World Student champion,” Viljoen reflected after a final training session in Potchefstroom before returning to Europe for two more meetings prior to the World Championships in Berlin.
“Things happened so unexpectedly. I took my opening throw and it felt really good but I had no clue how far it was. I looked in the direction of the place where coach Terseus (Liebenberg) was standing but, when I saw him jumping up and down, it suddenly struck home and I heard him shouting 65…65! It was like a dream come true.”
Victory in Melbourne in 2006 was also very special because Viljoen won there in front of a crowd of 76,500 spectators. “After major disappointments in Athens in 2004, and the World Students of 2005 in Izmir, I never even thought about medals or winning. The spectators were fantastic, particularly if you are used to about 2000 people at home.”
The Final in Belgrade boosted her confidence even more when all five of her legal throws measured beyond 60 metres, with a respectable 62.52 in the final round most satisfactory. Her record throw was about three metres better than her previous best and elevated her to the fourth place on the 2009 IAAF Top Lists.
“I am really looking forward to my clashes with the top stars in Berlin,” she said. “My aim is to finish in the top six while any medal will be the cherry on the top. The fact that I am the smallest of all the top girls does not bother me. I have done all the hard work, I am strong enough and fast (her secret weapon) and I hope to better my African and SA record.”
Viljoen’s big throw in Belgrade was the fourth senior African record of her career since 2002. Her first record of 58.33 had also set a continental junior best. In 2003 she first reached 60.57 in Potchefstroom and followed it up with 61.59 in Durban. Then Justine Robbeson, her main rival, a member of the same club, and a former World Junior heptathlon champion, took over and improved the continental record to 63.49 in February 2008.
“Our rivalry brings out the best in both of us,” Viljoen said. “We have respect for each other but, when in the same contest, it is a battle royal in the true sense of the words.”
Viljoen, who has various degrees (Bachelor of Commerce in Sport Management and Recreation; Bachelor of Education Honours, Higher Education Schools diploma, and more to come) behind her name, grew up in a teaching and sporting environment. Her parents, both teachers and sports lovers (dad Deon was a provincial rugby wing) have supported her all along during an exciting sporting career that started in 1998, at the age of 14, when she was selected to play cricket for South Africa’s national team. She excelled as a batsman and appeared in Test and one-day internationals.
At that stage she had to make a choice between cricket and athletics. It was a difficult decision but javelin throwing got the nod and, with Liebenberg as coach – he guided Marius Corbett to a world title in 1997 – and Jan Zelezny as role-model, she is convinced she has done the right thing.
As a youngster she preferred to run the 400 metres but, because of a strong arm and impressing when throwing a cricket ball, her headmaster told a teacher, Marina Hamilton, that if she could help her to throw 35 metres with a javelin she could start coaching her. Viljoen agreed reluctantly because she had previously failed to control the spear. However, the result a few days later was 36.92 and since then it has never been the same again.
She has a son of 4 (Henré), of whom she is very proud. He resembles her, plays the most important role in her life, and has given her only pleasure. She has been engaged to Conrad Seymore since Christmas 2008 but they have no definite wedding plans as yet. She also has a brother (30) and a younger sister of 21.
Viljoen loves to relax and watch movies but, most of all, she enjoys socialising with family and friends around a fire and a typical South African “braai” (barbeque). She impresses with all the facts and stats of her own career which she has on the tips of her fingers.
1999, 43.89; 2000, 45.50; 2001, 50.70; 2002, 58.33; 2003, 61.59; 2004, 61.15; 2005, 57.31; 2006, 60.72; 2007, 58.39; 2008, 62.24; 2009, 65.43.
2003: q World Championships (Paris)
2003: 3rd All Africa Games (Abuja)
2003: 1st Afro-Asian Games (Hyderabad)
2004 1st African Championships (Brazzaville)
2004 q Olympic Games (Athens)
2005 12th World Student Games (Izmir)
2006 1st Commonwealth Games (Melbourne)
2006 2nd African Championships (Bambous)
2007 3rd All Africa Games (Algiers)
2007 5th World Student Games (Bangkok)
2008 1st African Championships (Addis Ababa)
2008 q Olympic Games (Beijing)
2009 1st World Student Games (Belgrade)
Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009.