Relay team confident of medal chances
South Africa's 4x400 metres relay team are confident they can replicate last year's silver-medal performance at the IAAF World Championships when they turn out at the London Olympic Games.
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The quartet of LJ van Zyl, Shane Victor, Ofentse Mogawane and Willem de Beer finished second in the Daegu final behind favourites the United States.
"It was an unbelievable feeling and it took me two months to realise what happened and what the impact was," De Beer said this week.
Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius made history when he earned a medal for his contribution in the preliminary rounds.
Pistorius, Victor, Mogawane and De Beer had progressed to the final in style when they set a new national record of 2:59.21.
Pistorius was replaced by Van Zyl, the fastest flat 400m sprinter in the country last season, for the final.
Athletics South Africa said at the time Pistorius had not made the final after he set the slowest time in the heats.
A new-look team will turn out in London, with Victor losing his place to Shaun de Jager.
When the team broke the SA record in the heats, De Beer believed they could earn a podium finish.
"LJ and I spoke after his hurdles race and we thought we could actually win a bronze medal," he said.
"We completely surprised ourselves and when I saw where he [Van Zyl] was placed at the 200m mark, Shane and I started jumping up and down, knowing that it was a certain medal."
Van Zyl, who ran the final leg in Daegu, said he would have preferred the gold medal, but he was elated with the result.
"No-one really expected anything of us and when Shane got out of the blocks, and Ofentse on the second leg, I knew we were going to win a medal," Van Zyl said ahead of the team's departure on Thursday.
"We just had to decide which one."
De Beer believed the Olympic team had greater depth for their medal bid, with everyone running under 46 seconds this season.
While Van Zyl has struggled with his form, with a best flat time this year of 46.51, which he ran in Potchefstroom in March, it is unlikely he will face the chop from the team.
He remains one of the country's best anchor runners in the 4x400m relay.
Van Zyl's efforts at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games played a lead role in securing a silver medal for the team, which also consisted of Paul Gorries, Mogawane and Jan van der Merwe.
Running in the final leg, Van Zyl got boxed in and with 70 metres to go, lying fifth, he accelerated past the pack in the third lane to clinch silver.
He believed they were capable of repeating last year's performance at the global championships.
"Relays are difficult and all four guys have to give their best on the day, because if only three run well, you are out," Van Zyl said.
"If everyone does their work, we can do it again and I have full belief in that."
He said the relay team's coach, Hennie Kotze, had put a lot of planning and effort into ensuring they were ready for the Games.
"He ordered six batons with the Olympic logo and 'London 2012' printed on it," Van Zyl said.
"Usually we train with coke bottles.
"He has made a lot of effort and he's got a bunch of rules and techniques he wants to use on the relay team."
Pistorius told laureus.com this week the relay squad faced a number of challenges ahead of the Games.
"The relay team is a little bit different to what we had last year," Pistorius said.
"Some of the guys have been struggling a bit with injuries so we will go in with a fair set of challenges, but I know that they have got a lot of heart."