Berend Koekemoer could have quite possibly been an Olympic contender had it not been for his decision to take a job to help his parents. Six years later, however, he is back and knows that he has no time to waste.
In 2015, the 19 year old from Graaff Reinet caused quite a stir when he stopped the clock running 45.42s over 400-metres in Potchefstroom.
As South Africa’s second-fastest 400 metre sprinter in 2015 (the first being Wayde van Niekerk), it was believed that Berend was a future champion in the making, especially given the fact that he was one of the few South African athletes that managed to dip under 45.50 seconds.
Things, however, did not quite work out as he had hoped.
His family was going through tough financial times which may have impacted his ability to focus on the track.
Berend had qualified to compete at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing but clocked a time of 46.52s during the heats.
Things had not gotten any better as time passed, not only with his athletics but also with his family’s financial situation.
In 2018, being a responsible kid, Berend felt that he was being selfish for focusing on his athletics and decided to quit.
He says that he got a job on a game farm in the Eastern Cape and despite it being tough, he kept at it because he wanted to help his parents.
He had not, however, stopped thinking about athletics and dreamed of running that one perfect race.
Last year, the national relay coach, Paul Gorries, came knocking at his door and told him “you don’t quit athletics when at 19 you ran 45.42s race in the 400 metres”.
This made Berend think hard about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life and he realised that this was a second chance to fulfil that dream of the perfect race.
Towards the end of 2021, at the age of 25, Berend joined Tuks (University of Pretoria) Athletics.
Being 25, he realises there is no time to waste and he has got to make every minute count when he is on the athletics track.
He is confident that he will dip under 45 seconds in the 400 metres but he is realistic about how tough it will be.
Berend explains: “It is fast from the start. I consider the first 50 metres to be crucial. Then the thinking games start. You can never afford to slack down, but you also don’t want to burn off too much energy too early. I prefer being in the second or third position after 200 metres. The last 150 metres is usually the moment of truth. That is when the battle between your brain and muscles start in earnest.”
Paul is also confident that Berend will dip under the 45-second mark.
“Berend now realises what life outside of athletics is about,” says Paul.
“I don’t doubt that his experience as a farmworker has mentally toughened him- motivated him. That is why I think he will dip under 45 seconds.”
Note: Edited from an article that appeared on the University of Pretoria website