He conquered the world as a junior, and now the biggest stage of them all awaits Kyle Blignaut.
The South African shot put star produced an outstanding performance at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday to qualify for the final at the age of just 21.
A giant of a man at 1.95m and 148kg, Blignaut heaved the 7.26kg ball of metal to a distance of 20.97m to finish fifth in his group and eighth overall in the qualifying rounds.
Only the top six across the field reached the automatic qualifying distance of 21.20m, including former South African Zane Weir (21.25m), who changed allegiance to Italy earlier this year, while world record-holder Ryan Crouser of the United States topped the list with a massive 22.05m effort.
Thursday’s final is at 4.05am SA time, and Blignaut believes that he can go even further. He has the temperament for the big stage, having won the World Under-20 title in 2018 with a distance of 22.07m.
His personal best in the senior ranks is 21.21m, but he knows that he will probably have to improve on that to challenge for a medal against the likes of Crouser, New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh and Mesud Pezer of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who were the top three in the qualifying rounds with distances of 22.05m, 21.49m and 21.33m respectively.
National record-holder Janus Robberts is the only other South African to have reached an Olympic final, where he placed seventh at Sydney 2000.
“I am happy with the performance – a deep 20 for the qualifying rounds, which took me through to the final. I am really excited about that. Me and my coach, that was always the plan… Deep 20s, low 21s in the qualification, getting through to the final,” Blignaut said from Tokyo yesterday.
“And from there, we can aim to get a new personal best and middle 21s, which on any day, can get you in the top six or top eight.
“I am aiming for middle 21s, which should get you top six – and you never know, maybe a medal. I know in 2016, a 21.30m medalled. So, if I can get anything above 21.30m, I’d be happy with that.
“I think on a good day, up to a metre. But on a modest day, I can maybe get a half-a-metre on tonight. But on a great day, I can go 22.”
The other South African in the shot put competition, Jason van Rooyen, finished ninth in his group with 20.29m, which saw him placed 19th overall.
“You know what, I personally feel that it went quite well. My last competition was in March, so to not participate for three months – working full-time – and then to rock up here and perform is a tall order,” Van Rooyen said.
“But there were big upsets, and I am very proud of what I have achieved tonight. The first throw really wasn’t great, and I just had to build from there.
“I didn’t back down, and I just climbed and climbed, and I am ecstatic about that, if I’m being honest with you. I can hold my head high, and I can be very proud of that.”
South Africa’s third field athlete yesterday, women’s javelin thrower Jo-Ane van Dyk, was not satisfied with her best effort of 57.69m, which placed her in 13th position in Group B and 24th overall.
“It didn’t go exactly as planned. But I gave it my all. I fought hard, and hopefully next time it will not be a disappointment, and I will advance to the final. There is always room for improvement,” said the 23-year-old, who was well short of her personal best of 61.19m that she set in June.
“It’s just today, everything did not click. Maybe I was a bit too stressed, because it was my first Olympics. We will just work on it. I feel a little disappointed, but it was still what I could do on the day, and I’m happy.”