Louzanne fourth in close finish at world championships

The blind middle distance sensation, Louzanne Coetzee, and here guide, Khothatso Mokone, crossing the finish line during the Interstate Bus Lines Glen Half Marathon earlier this year. On Monday evening, Coetzee finished fourth in the T11 1500-m at the IAAF World Para Athletics Championships in London, but still smashed her personal best time in the event. PHOTO: MORGAN PIEK

The idiom, “close, but no cigar”, is in a nutshell possibly the best description of Louzanne Coetzee, completely blind athlete from the City of Roses and her guide, Khothatso Mokone’s gutsy fourth place in the T-11 category at the world championships for physically disabled athletes, which is currently staged in London.

After a severe battle between Coetzee and three other world stars in the
1500 m in this category, it came down to a sprint finish over the last 100 m, which has never been seen in this event at the previous world championships or Paralympics.

Arango Buitrago (Colombia) surprisingly took the lead from the onset, leading the world record holder and firm pre-race favourite, Jin Zheng (China), to still lead at the 800-m mark (2:37,78). At this stage, Johanna Mazur (Poland) and Coetzee were in striking distance and this is where the Chinese attacked and took the lead. She could, however, not make an impact on Buitrago, Mazur or Coetzee, who all stayed in contention, and from thereon it was a serious fight for the podium.

With 100 m to go, it was still anyone’s race. But Mazur’s sprinting speed proved too strong for the rest. She won in 4:50,19 with Buitrago, who came back with a vengeance finishing second (4:51,19), a mere 24 hundredths of a second adrift.

Zheng dropped back ever so slightly and clocked 4:51,40 for bronze, less than a second behind the winner. Coetzee, who had to come wide into the home straight to stand a medal chance, finished in a personal best time (4:52,67) by a huge margin for her fourth place. Her previous best was 4:58,32.

The fifth and sixth placed athletes respectively, Saveed Rodrigues (Mexico) and Margarita Faundez (China), were way off the pace, recording times of 5:02,51 and 5:09,52.
Coetzee spoke to Voice shortly after the race: “I gave it my all and although a medal would have been the jackpot, I am still extremely happy that I am now competitive with the rest of the world in the shorter distance races. A personal best time and reaching the final was my major goal, and we achieved that.

“I must give credit to my guide, Khothatso (Mokone), who ran the race in the manner we planned and his motivation along the way is just once more proof of his hunger for us to go for gold soon. I can’t wait to bump heads with these ladies again” the confident Coetzee concluded. – RUFUS BOTHA