31 August 2015
A few years ago, in the 2012 London Olympics, Sunette Viljoen finished fourth. The experience spurred her on to do better in international competition, especially as she had won bronze in her last World Championship in Daegu, South Korea, a year earlier.
She went into the Beijing championship this year with a world-leading distance of 66.62m. And this weekend’s javelin competition in the IAAF World Athletics Championships in the Chinese capital was a colossal battle between the experienced South African, Germany’s Kathrina Molitor and Huihui Lyu from the host country.
Although Viljoen dropped down to fifth place halfway through the competition, she grabbed first place with 65.79m going into the final throw. Sadly, it was not enough to hold on to the gold, but Viljoen was sensible about the contest, telling IAAF.org that “to win any colour is special; being a world champion means more, but being a world medallist is very special”.
She said the crowd support was incredible, particularly for local hero Lyu, which Viljoen says probably gave her what she needed to win silver. “It was an awesome competition to be part of, but it happened so fast. I was in the lead in the fourth round,” she said, “then (Lyu) came in with the 66m throw.”
The result looked locked until, with the last throw of the competition, German Molitor won the gold. “I don’t think anyone saw that coming, but what a magnificent performance by Kathrina,” Viljoen told Business Day.
In the end, Molitor threw a massive 67.69m in her final attempt for first place and Lyu kept the silver with 66.13m.
Viljoen’s medal ensured South Africa ended 13th on the table, topped by Kenya with seven gold and six silver, ahead of Jamaica with seven gold and two silver. The US won 18 medals, more than any other nation, but had to settle for third spot with six gold.
The South African thrower believes she can handle the pressure for the build-up to next year’s Rio Olympics. She told Business Day: “By the time Rio comes, I will have all the experience and everything in the world that I can ask for. I know how it feels to be in such pressure situations, and I just need to be able to deliver a really big throw. I know I’m capable of it; it’s just here and there the technique and my impulse.”
Following her performance in Beijing, Viljoen has confirmed her status as one of the country’s most decorated athletes. The bronze has been added to her two Continental Cup silver medals, two Commonwealth Games gold medals and one bronze.