TuksAthletics has enjoyed a very strong start to the season, with UP winning the first leg of Varsity Athletics on 3 March 2016, with record-breaking performances by the likes of Akani Simbine and Clarence Munyai. Danie Cornelius, who is the head of the programme of athletics at UP, was not timid in expressing his delight at the recent results UP athletes have produced, the reasons for the success of TuksAthletics, and the goals of TuksAthletics for this season, when Perdeby spoke with him.
How would you describe the way you feel about some of the performances by Tuks athletes this early in the season?
Well I can tell you one thing, if the readers could actually see me I would make backflips, I promise you that’s how excited I am, it’s amazing. We have so many great athletes coming through, but this early in the season, the athletes are just beyond my expectations. Normally, we see these kinds of performances in April because that is when our national championships take place. Look at the sprints in the world, sprints is probably your most competitive event in athletics; everybody wants to run [it]. But [for Akani Simbine] to be the seventh man ever to run a sub 10 [seconds] and sub 20 [seconds] in one day, I mean that just shows you how special it is. So I’m very excited, I am extremely pleased. If this is just an indication of what is to follow we [are] going to have an amazing year at TuksAthletics.
With so many Tuks athletes succeeding now, have there been any transformation strategies that you have implemented over the years?
There were many things that we did try from the start. We try to change always, try to create an environment for the athletes to perform. It’s like an incubator, you must get everything to the athlete, you must get the sport scientists involved, you must get physiotherapists involved, you must have dedicated coaches… and then also sometimes there are injuries where you [have to] get the right people that can treat injuries. So I think what we have done [is] we have looked at the athlete, [and asked] what does an athlete need to perform? We have tried to create that environment within our budget constraints, to get these things happening, and I think what we have done is that we have created a professional environment for these athletes. We are still far away from our target, and what we’d really love to have at TuksSport [is] an environment where you can come and do everything – everything must just happen for you…The other thing [we]’ve got is two full-time coaches now as well. That’s Hennie Kriel [who] is coaching Gift Leotlela and Clarence Munyai and Rikenette Steenkamp [who has] now been running well. He has actually been the driving force behind our success in the sprints, and then Neil Cornelius […] is Luvo Manyonga’s coach as well.
What are TuksAthletics objectives for this year?
Well we’ve got several objectives, the first objective we’re already halfway [with]. Our main objective was to [reclaim] the Varsity Cup [in athletics] that we lost last year. We were not happy with our […] performances. We lost fair and square by not performing up to standard, and we had a long and hard look at our own performances and we decided we [are] not going to let it happen again. Our second objective is to see if we can win the University Sport South Africa (USSA) championships. Our third objective is that we want as many people as possible to represent South Africa at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world championships later this year, that [is] going to take place in London. If I look at the performances that we’ve seen so far, I can tell that we are on the way to greatness, there is going to be a big contingent of Tuks athletes over there.
Will TuksAthletics see any more expansion in the future?
Well like I said to you earlier, you must remember that we have to develop, we have to expand, we have to be fluid and we have to be always one step ahead of the rest. In order to do that we have to get better facilities. We’ve got excellent facilities already on the main track, but in the process we have to look at our gyms, for instance, to make sure that our strength and conditioning is on par. We are busy negotiating with the Physiology Department of the university and there is going to be a new sport research unit that will be headed by Prof. Martin Schwellnus. We are also going to get [the Physiology Department] in to help us do a more scientific analysis on the athletes and their performances. So there [are] a lot of things we want to do, we want to expand. If you want to be an athlete who is a megastar […] there is no other place than TuksAthletics as everything will be here for you.