Going for Gold
||29 July 2012 07:00
Devi Sankaree Govender
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
This is one of South Africa's top Olympic athletes [on screen]. And no, she's not a body builder or weightlifter.
She actually participates in one of the more graceful track and field events - the javelin.
Bongani Bingwa (Carte Blanche presenter): "Her name is Sunette Viljoen. In the last two years she has taken the world of track and field by storm, shattering both South African and African records. As the current world No. 1, she is poised for Olympic glory at London 2012."
Sunette Viljoen (SA Olympic athlete): "This year is the one medal I'm just short in my medal collection and that is the Olympic medal."
The rest of her collection is impressive. She has won all major athletics titles in the world, bar one, and is now set on pocketing Olympic gold. She's always been a serious domestic competitor, but the last few years have seen her taking on the world.
She's considered the favourite for the Olympic title because of this throw [on screen] in New York in June.
Sunette: "I threw about five records with that 69.35 of mine that I was throwing that day. It was not only a South African and Continental record, which was very special of that distance, but that is the furthest distance ever on American soil."
And it catapulted her into the world No. 1 position.
Sunette: "I still see myself as the underdog going into London. I will probably be named as one of South Africa's medal hopes for London, but if you read in the newspapers overseas, you will only read about the Sportakovas the Obakomovas and the Unberfahls that I am going to throw against."
We caught up with Sunette spending quality time with her biggest supporter, her seven-year-old son Henre. He seems keen to follow in her footsteps.
They live in Rustenburg with her parents and sister in a three bedroom flat on the grounds of a local high school.
Bongani: "So this is the room that you share with Henre?"
Sunette: "Yes, when I am overseas and when I am back home, then I will sleep here [bunk bed on screen] and Henre is here on the top. You will see he will always write me like 'I love Smet'. This is my nickname, and everything that Henre gives me I will always put against the wall. This is so sweet: 50 meters... 60... 70 metres and there the javelin goes to the 70 metres."
When we visited, Sunette's Olympic kit had just arrived.
Sunette: "If I go onto the rostrum, which I dream about, then I will wear this tracksuit. This is the official tracksuit of the London Olympic Games [on screen]."
Bongani: "So this is the one you will be wearing when they sing the National Anthem on the podium. Yes? Right?"
Sunette: "On the podium... yes."
She lacks no support at home - father Daan can already picture her on that rostrum.
Daan Viljoen (Father): "Since 2009 when she started throwing big distances I thought by myself: I think if we could go on like this she might become... she might become a world champion."
From very early on her mother felt she was destined for greatness.
Sunette Viljoen (Mother): "When I saw that little Sunette lying there, I said: 'This is a champion; I know that she is going to be a champion.'"
And that came true in most sports Sunette took part in, especially cricket. There was no girls' team, so she played with the lads... and won.
Sunette: "I played under 14A, under 15A and under 16A with the boys, and then I was selected for South Africa at 15 years... the senior national women's cricket team."
Sunette also played provincial hockey and netball. Then, when she was in matric, one of South Africa's leading javelin coaches heard about her exceptional throwing arm.
Terseus Liebenberg (Athletics Manager, NWU): "I immediately saw the potential - she had a fantastic arm. The technique was not that good that evening, but she had immense potential."
Terseus Liebenberg has, over the last 11 years, fine-tuned her raw talent, helping her to become one of the finest javelin throwers in the world.
Terseus: "Sunette normally releases the javelin... let's say in a throw of 68/69 metres... at approximately 26 to 29 metres per second, which is pretty fast."
That's a whopping one hundred kilometres per hour!
Terseus says Sunette's success is largely because she has everything a javelin thrower should have.
Terseus: "If you compare Sunette to some of the other world class throwers, she is much, much smaller than them. But she is faster and she can generate the same release velocities as, for example, the world record holder. She is immensely and deceptively strong."
Not only brawn, but brains too.... Despite her rigorous training schedule, Sunette has three degrees from the North West University.
Her journey to the top has been eventful. In 2005, South African Athletics was shocked when she tested positive for elevated hormone levels... but not because of doping.
Sunette: "The one day I was doing crunches back home in Potch and I felt something is not right. So I went to my sports doctor and he revealed that I was pregnant and [he] was about 26 weeks already."
Not for a moment has she regretted this unexpected arrival.
Sunette: "And here he is running around."
Bongani: "When you hear accolades like 'world No. 1' or 'world class athlete' you would expect Sunette Viljoen to practice and train in a high performance centre, but instead she spends most of her time in this humble high school gym."
Here she works out six days a week, and all on her own.
Once a week she drives through to the University in Potchefstroom where Terseus helps her fine tune her body and hone her technique.
Terseus: "Michael Angelo said, 'Small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing.' So all these elements have got to come together on the day. And, apart from Sunette possessing a high level of technical skills - and she is extremely fast and strong ,- on the day you have got to be psychologically so alert and so ready to be able to perform optimally."
Terseus and Sunette approach javelin throwing scientifically and study other athletes, discussing their styles, using terms such as cyclical and a-cyclical parts, impulse steps and release velocities.
There's more to the art of javelin than just seeing how far you can chuck it.
Dad Daan, is a retired athletics coach and in Rustenburg he helps with her training programme, but he never attends competitions.
Daan: "There is a strange bond between me and Sunette. I coach her, but I don't go to competitions where she is competing. I am not going to the Olympics. My wife and my daughter are going. Because, why? When I am not there, then she goes."
South Africa last won a gold medal in track and field in 1952 when Esther Brand won the high jump in Helsinki. Can Sunette update that?
On the wall in her bedroom, alongside her son's drawings, are some inspirational quotes and predictions that indicate her absolute determination. In her mind's eye she's already world record holder and Olympic champion.
It is now time for the hard work to pay off in London 2012.
Terseus: "Since 2009 she has become very, very strong psychologically and she believes she can do it. And once you believe you can do it, then you can do it."
Sunette: "I know I have the ammunition. I know that I will be one hundred and fifty percent ready. I will probably go as world No. 1 into the Olympic Games. It's almost like an extra adrenalin to have inside me."
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.