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Van Zyl celebrates birthday with world gold 

Van Zyl celebrates birthday with world gold 

19 July 2002 - South Africa’s Louis van Zyl ran an impressive 48.89 - a new personal best and Championships record - to win the 400m hurdles final.

Van Zyl whose birthday falls on the 20 July (he turns 17) was astonished by the massive performance he had just achieved. Entering the Championships with a personal best of 50.32 he lowered his time by 43 tenth of a second, an eternity for a 400m hurdles.

“I just felt so good. Tomorrow is my birthday and this is a fantastic present.”

To give credit to the extraordinary performance of the South African, it is worth mentioning that van Zyl is now the sixth fastest junior on the All-time lists. He entered the very select group of sub-48.9 junior runners which includes former Olympic medallist Danny Harris and World Championshps medallist Llewelyn Herbert.

“I think that what I have just achieved is something special. I wasn’t sure I could do it. The Americans who were running on both sides of me started off so fast that at some stage I felt I had to do something. I could feel them throughout the whole race. I knew they were in front but I didn’t discourage.”

And the last part of van Zyl’s race was a masterpiece. One of those powerful finishes that reminds us of Edwin Moses, the King of the 400m hurdles.

“Approaching the 8th hurdle I said to myself ‘you need to relax and just let your legs run’. And all of a sudden I managed to change gear. I couldn’t really tell you what happened then; I just knew I was running fast.”

Crossing the finish line with his arms spread to the sky, van Zyl’s victory wasn’t just a one-day story. One of the fastest qualifiers in IAAF World Youth Championships in Debrecen last year, he was disqualified for an illegal clearance of the barrier.

“That day was terrible for me. I can still remember the feeling of emptiness that surrounded me. From then on I focused on this year’s world junior title.”

Under the attentive eyes of Mum and Dad, van Zyl could not contain his joy. “My family is here, my parents made the trip all the way from South Africa to watch my race and I am so happy that I ran my best 400m hurdles with them in the stands.”

Martie van Zyl who struggles to stop the tears dropping from her eyes is understandably proud of his son.

“He’s been working so hard for this title, he’s very conscious in training and such a nice person. He really deserved this. I was scared all the time while he was running, but I think it is normal. It is a mother’s nature to fear for her child,” she said.

“I wish I could stay and visit this wonderful country but I have to go back to school. The classes started yesterday and I can’t afford to miss any more lessons,” he said.

Van Zyl who has just turned 17 will defend his World Junior title in Grosseto 2004.