Dreaming of the Olympics

2013-04-27 00:00

DAVID KNOWLES caught up with local young discus thrower Roland Pienaar

THANKS to having an older brother and a moment of curiosity, Roland Pienaar (16) has become an athlete on a mission when it comes to throwing the discus.

The strapping 1,92 m lad, weighing 95 kilograms, is in Grade 11 at Howick High School. Since 2007, he has had an impressive CV in the discipline of discus, all part of his ambition to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games in the not too distant future.

“I was inspired by my older brother, Anleo, when he started discus in Grade 8 and Grade 9. I decided to give it a try as a curious younger brother and have kept going,” Pienaar told Weekend Witness. “My father, Hugo, did athletics at school, and, besides being my trainer for the past six years, has been a huge inspiration and motivation to me.”

Pienaar currently competes at U17 or youth boys’ level, throwing a 1,5-kilogram discus. This is a 500-gram increase in discus weight from U13, U14 and U15 level, a huge adjustment that tends to sort out those who wish to continue in the discipline. “That extra weight has a big say in determining performance and resolve. Many young athletes, when they reach this level, stop discus, as they cannot cope with the weight,” said Pienaar.

However, this has been no deterrent for Pienaar, who thrives on the challenge. Since he started the discipline, he has represented KwaZulu-Natal, and the Pietermaritzburg and Districts team at numerous championships, invariably winning his age group and for good measure, adding shot putt, although discus is his main focus these days.

This year, he represented the PMB and Districts team at Menlo, in Pretoria, where he won the boys’ U17 discus. At the KZN schools, youth and junior championships in Durban, he finished first again in the boys U17 discus, setting a KZN record of 52,79 metres, breaking his brother’s record, which had stood since 2009. His latest achievement was third at the SA Youth, Junior and U23 Track and Field Championships at Pilditch, Pretoria.

Pienaar holds most of the local schools and interschool records, but it’s no walk in the park for the youngster. A strict regime of training and gym is followed every week, as he works towards his Olympic dream.

“During the athletics season, I train six days a week, concentrating on gym work, throwing, sprints, working with a medicine ball, plyometrics [jump training to get muscles to exert maximum force in as short a time as possible] and various drills,” said Pienaar. “In the off season [from April to June], I only do gym and some rugby training. Discus is a technical sport and requires plenty of discipline. I also watch video footage of me in action, looking for ways to improve my technique.”

Since August 2011, Pienaar has had the support of Kaai Preller from the University of the Orange Free State. Preller coached Frans Kruger who bagged a bronze for discus at the 2000 Olympic Games. “We communicate through telephone calls and e-mails and I have attended two training clinics in Bloemfontein. Injury prevention is another important aspect and, since last year, I have worked with a biokineticist in Hilton who has corrected my form, as discus puts plenty of rotational stress on the back,” he said.

Overseas competition still beckons for the budding athlete, who had hoped to qualify for the World Youth Championships in Ukraine this year. He needed a distance of 53,5 metres to get there, but fell slightly short with his KZN record throw of 52,79. It hasn’t dampened Pienaar’s spirits and he has seen the positive side of sport in his efforts, saying: “Age plays a big part in discus, with many throwers only maturing at about 30. On the plus side, I increased in distance by eight metres in 2011 and, in training, I have thrown 55 metres a couple of times. I need to throw that at the appropriate times, but it will come. My goal for this year is to reach the 60-metre mark.”

Other than reaching 60 metres, Pienaar is preparing for next year, when he steps up another age group, using a 1,75-kilogram discus. He hopes to qualify for the World Junior Championships in the United States and is already a member of the KZN elite 21-athlete squad preparing for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.

Pienaar is determined to succeed in his chosen sport, despite athletics in South Africa being a very poor and distant cousin to most major sports.

“South Africa did not participate in the Africa Youth Championships in Nigeria in March this year and we also missed the Southern Region Championships in Angola, which started on April 25. It’s uncertain whether any athletes will make the trip to the World Youth Championships in Ukraine, in July, either.”

It’s a tough world trying to make a name for yourself in athletics in South Africa, but Pienaar has the right ingredients, the right soul to march on, overcoming any obstacles in his way. It’s all about dreaming and, from that moment of curiosity, his dream is still alive and a real possibility. What is that dream? “To take on my role model, German Robert Harting, double Olympic champion, in the greatest arena of all, the Olympic Games,” he said.

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