Hurdles star Wenda Nel aims ‘to savour every moment on the track’ before hanging up her spikes

Wenda Nel competed in her second Olympics in Tokyo last year. Picture: Phil Noble/Reuters

Wenda Nel competed in her second Olympics in Tokyo last year. Picture: Phil Noble/Reuters

Published Feb 9, 2022


Cape Town - Wenda Nel’s best finish at the world championships is seventh in 2015, but this year, she hopes to just qualify for the event before hanging up her spikes.

The nine-time South African 400m hurdles champion announced on the Tuks Sport website this week that she will retire at the end of the year after a superb career spanning 13 seasons.

Qualifying for last year’s Tokyo Olympics – her second after Rio 2016 – was already a significant achievement, considering that the 400m hurdles world record has been improved four times since 2019: twice each by American Dalilah Muhammad (52.20 seconds) and 52.16, and last year by her compatriot Sydney McLaughlin (51.90 and 51.46).

Nel’s personal best of 54.37 came in 2015, but she did well to post a season’s best time of 55.16 last year.

After the athletics world championships from July 15-24 in Eugene, Oregon, Nel will hope to finish off in style at the Commonwealth Games, where she claimed a bronze medal in the 2018 edition in Australia.

“The plan was actually to retire last year, but throughout the season, there were so many uncertainties. Even after I had qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games, nothing was certain. It felt like the Games could be cancelled at any moment. To make a long story short, my last race in 2021 (Olympic semi-final, where she finished seventh in a time of 56.35) was an anti-climax. I did not want to end my hurdling career like that,” Nel told Tuks Sport.

“It would be nice to compete one more time at the (Commonwealth) Games and maybe a world champs. Who knows, I might even get to run a final. But it is going to be about first things first. Before I can dream, I must qualify. There are never any guarantees in sport.”

Nel’s toughest competition locally is likely to come at the South African championships in April, from the likes of former junior world champion Zeney van der Walt, Taylon Bieldt and Gezelle Magerman.

“Every athlete hopes to end their career with that one final outstanding performance, but I am not obsessing about it. It is more important to savour every moment on the track,” Nel said.

“If I run the slowest time of my career in my last race, I will not consider myself a failure. I am at peace as to how my career played out. I consider 2022 as a blessing to my athletics journey.”