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Pillay grateful to Wayde van Niekerk for his inspiration

“A lot of us are here because of Wayde."

Lythe Pillay credited Wayde van Niekerk for his influence on his career and how the world 400m record holder inspired him to specialise in the 400m one-lap event.

Pillay was a 13-year old when he watched Van Niekerk blitz through the unflavoured lane eight, going 43.03 to win a gold medal in his Olympics debut at Rio 2016.

He said he never knew about the one-lapper until he saw the Van Niekerk break former American sprinter Michael Johnson’s 17-year old record.

“He started the ripple effect,” he said.

Lythe Pillay receives the baton from his hero Wayde van Niekerk in one of the heats at the World Relays. Photo: Supplied

“A lot of us are here because of Wayde. I didn’t know about the 400m race until I saw him break the world record. Seeing someone from SA do it inspired me to also want to do it,” Pillay said.

While Van Niekerk has struggled to replicate that form due to injuries, he’s still a vital cog in SA’s 400m team. It was evident at the recent world relays championships in Bahamas where the men’s 4x400m team won a silver medal.

Pillay ran the final lap and helped SA to the podium with a sensational performance but it was Van Niekerk’s presence that inspired the team.

The SA relay team. Photo: Supplied

“He’s our Siya Kolisi. He took the helm and led us. He didn’t lead from a point of being famous. He played a big brother role rather than being team captain.

“The exciting thing for us as a team was the camaraderie because we’d been waiting to run with Wayde for years.
“It’s a massive inspiration to have him in the team. To see him come down to our level in terms of humility was the biggest thing for us.”

Rise to stardom

Pillay’s career has seen a steady rise since winning the World U20 Championships 400m title in Cali, Colombia, in 2022. He said his performance in there was a big catalyst to where he is today.

Lythe Pillay.

He enjoyed his first European season in 2021 and was part of SA’s 4x400m relay team for the Tokyo Olympics. From Tokyo he participated in the world juniors champs in Nairobi where he finished fourth in the final.

“Nairobi was a pivotal point. I didn’t perform badly. I matched my PB and lifetime best at that point. I realised that in the sport, people look at who won. It became apparent that running a fast time is irrelevant,” Pillay said.

“Cali 2022 was a turbulent year. I picked up an injury mid-season. We had to call-off the European season and focus on the world juniors. It was a big catalyst to where I am now. I went there with a newfound confidence and self-assurance from Kenya and the Olympics.”

Success after Cali

Lythe Pllay (back second from left ) and Wayde van Niekerk (back, third from left) with Team SA at the World Relays. Photo: Supplied

He concluded 2022 with the ASA young athlete of the year award and won his first seniors medal after clinching a silver at the nationals in Potchefstroom last year, which paved the way for his first full European season.

At his first senior World Athletics Championships in Budapest, he was in the top 30 but his journey ended in the heats.

“It wasn’t a bad championships but wasn’t my best performance. We took last year as a trial run. This year is a big year with the Olympics. As much as we didn’t perform well, we gained experience.”

The one-lap specialist won his first seniors 400m title with a PB of 44.31 at the nationals in April and is looking forward to the Olympics in Paris.

Also Read: Athletic club donates sport kits to Villa Liza Primary

Also Read: Pillay dazzles while others continue in great form


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