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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - World 400 metres hurdles bronze medallist LJ van Zyl hopes his future wife will accompany him to London this year as a fellow member of the South Africa Olympics team.
Van Zyl plans to marry road runner Irvette van Blerk on September 29, seven weeks after the Olympic 400 metres hurdles final. In the meantime, Van Blerk is trying to qualify for London in the women's marathon.
"Irvette is also hoping to qualify for the Olympics and will be running the London marathon at the end of April. It's nice that we share the same vision, she's also preparing for the Olympics and she knows what it takes, she understands the sacrifices," Van Zyl told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
The part-time cattle farmer joked that a payout he received for breaking the South African record last year had been spent on buying a herd of cows for the customary lobola, or dowry, payment grooms make to their bride's family.
Van Zyl, 26, who posted the four fastest times last year, is confident 2012 will be his best year yet after he finished behind Britain's Dai Greene and Puerto Rican Javier Culson at the Daegu world championships. In 2009 he also had the fastest time of the year but was eliminated in the semi-finals.
Van Zyl said he been battling a hamstring strain in Daegu last year.
"This has been my best year in terms of base work, I started in November and I'm already doing better this year at the same exercises compared to when I broke the South African record last February," Van Zyl said.
"The key thing is that I'm injury free and I'm timing my peaks better. I've learnt how to pace myself and get to my peak for the major events."
In a country where athletics is hugely popular but Olympic success rare, with Josiah Thugwane in the 1996 marathon the only gold medallist since South Africa returned to the Games four years earlier, there is plenty of pressure on Van Zyl.
"There's a lot of expectation, but I see it as motivation, not pressure," the softly-spoken Van Zyl said.
Van Zyl, who has a personal best of 47.66 seconds, said competition would be stiff in London.
"The Americans are always good, they'll have two or three guys in the final, while there's also Greene and Culson. Basically, everyone in the final has a good chance of doing well.
"But there'll definitely be more pressure on Greene in front of his home crowd. Anyway, I'll just be focusing on my own race and my 10 hurdles," he said.
The keen off-road biker has also decided to scale back on his races in the buildup to the Games.
"My season is so long and I've had too many races before which has led to tired legs. So I'll be concentrating on training until April and will then compete in the Yellow Pages Series (the domestic South African circuit). We have three other fine hurdlers in South Africa, so the competition will be good.
"Training at 1,400 metres above sea level in Pretoria will also definitely be an advantage when it comes to running in London, and the weather's much better too."
Editing by John Mehaffey