When you search the meaning of the term “gentle giant” on the internet, the first thing displayed by google is a meme of a large animated man holding a cat.
For absolute accuracy, google’s algorithms would do well to replace that image with a picture of Kyle Blignaut.
For the sake of accuracy in this article too, it must be pointed out that Blignaut’s first name is actually Kayle. But people have spelled it wrong so many times he seems to have shrugged it off.
He’s now Kyle, and that’s cool, because that’s how chilled he is.
His opponents, however, would be nothing short of foolish to believe his seemingly meek personality encompasses the full character of the man.
Put a shot put in his hand and Blignaut becomes a fire-breathing beast, and nobody has more confidence in his ability than he has in himself.
In 2018, representing Monument High at a schools track and field meeting in Potchefstroom, he produced a 20.66m heave with the 6kg junior shot, breaking the national junior record of 20.50m which had been held by Janus Robberts for nearly 20 years.
Later that season he showcased his real potential with a 21.65m victory at the Southern Region U-20 Championships in Boksburg.
Despite making a massive breakthrough, Blignaut still wasn’t fully satisfied, insisting he could go even further.
“I knew I could get a big one today, and then it came,” he said at the time.
“My coach (Pierre Blignaut) and I are very happy but at the World U-20 Championships I want to go at least 22 metres.”
Less than three months later, at the global junior showpiece in Finland, he threw 22.07m in the fifth round, edging out American opponent Adrian Piperi by one centimetre to win the gold medal.
In the shot put, however, the transition from junior to senior level is a long road of hard knocks.
The increase in the weight of the shot to 7.26kg requires a whole new approach. Essentially, to find the right technique, one has to start again.
As he himself has stated, the only way for Blignaut to climb back to the top in the open division is to practice. Repetition, with the help of the right coach, leads to success.
Aware that the transition was going to be a challenge, Blignaut first picked up a senior shot in competition as a youth athlete in 2016, and he has improved his personal best every season since.
It’s that sort of foresight, persistence and steady progress which promises to mould the former prodigy into a global star.
Now a 21-year-old BCom business management student at the University of Johannesburg, Blignaut opened his 2021 season with a bang, producing a career best 20.90m at an ACNW Open meeting in Potchefstroom last month, and last week he launched a 20.85m heave to win his event at the ASA Athletix Invitational in Roodepoort.
Having turned out at seven events on the domestic circuit this year, he has sent the shot sailing beyond 20.50m at five of them.
Though he will want to go much bigger, the consistency he has already found has been impressive and he is expected to be locked in a tussle with in-form athlete Jason van Rooyen in a highly anticipated battle for the national title next month.
Going in search of the Olympic qualifying standard (21.10m) he hopes to book his place in the SA team for the Tokyo Games later this year, but Blignaut admits he has some work to do to compete for podium places at the highest level.
If he can get to Tokyo, however, he is eager to lay the foundation for future success at the 2024 Olympics in Paris and a gold medal charge at the 2028 multi-sport spectacle in Los Angeles.
“Just to be at the Olympics, throwing with those guys, will be a great experience for me,” he says.
“But 2024 is my focus and in 2028 I definitely want to win.”