Louzanne Coetzee

Louzanne Coetzee , South Africa
Louzanne Coetzee Women’s 1500m and World Record Holder 5000 m Paralympian, South Africa Copyright picture by WESSEL OOSTHUIZEN, SASPA

Louzanne is a blind (classification T11) athlete based in Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa. She is 27 and a residence head working at the University of the Free State whilst she is pursuing her athletic dreams. She has competed in 4 world championships (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019) and one Paralympic Games – Rio 2016.

She competes in middle to long distances from the 800m up to the marathon. She holds the African record in the marathon and 800m respectively and is the world record holder in the 5000m.

Besides running she enjoys baking, watching movies, walking and hiking, cycling and has recently taken up some artistic hobbies as well. She is fun loving and laughs and talks easily.

Her involvement in her society stretches beyond sports and she formed part of the University of the Free State Student Representative Council as a student. She has also been an athlete’s representative on the Free State Academy of Sport’s executive committee, she also does public speaking at events and forms part of a local church band.

She runs to inspire others… “Running provides me with a platform to reach others, to bring hope, to make people realize that anything is possible if you are prepared to work hard for it.”

Sports Africa Q&A with Louzanne Coetzee

Track meets in Jamaica are very popular, even for young people. It is a culture. What ingredients would be required to make athletics as popular in your country?

In South Africa I would say track meets are fairly popular. However, I would not say they are as popular as in Jamaica. They are not a culture here.

I would think a great part of their popularity in Jamaica is the rise, success and inspirational story of Usain Bolt and other great athletes like George Rhoden that came before him. To many across the globe they are icons, an inspiration. All the more to the people in their home country.

In Jamaica athletes are also identified from a young age with almost all schools having athletics as part of the curriculum. This ensures that the youth grow up with athletics as a part of their lives and it forms a culture.

Jamaica also does a lot in terms of national based coaching and high-performance facilities for their athletes as an effort to retain them.

South Africa experiences this to a smaller, shorter degree with athletes like Wade Van Niekerk and others whose success create some interest in the sport. However, South Africa does not manage to always retain long term athletes. This is sometimes due to injuries and other times due to athletes having to build a career outside of athletics in order to survive.

I would say any country needs the ingredients Jamaica has: constant and solid athletes who act as role models and heroes (for men and for women) in the sport, retention of athletes within the sport,  media coverage for the sport, identification of athletes at school level and the inclusion of athletics within the school curriculum.

In your South Africa what are the obstacles for competitions for people with disabilities, What conditions, decisions, and/or policies in your country have facilitated the success of athletes with disabilities in your country?

Barriers to competition for para athletics are: a lack of funding, a lack of sponsors, lack of competition opportunities and a lack of awareness and knowledge about the sporting opportunities that does exist.

However, not all is bad in South Africa. When you compete on elite level you do get funding from SASCOC to compete internationally and build up experience. They also support certain athletes through funding programs.

I think the problem is more a lack of funding at grass roots level and the fact that not many people in our country is aware of para athletics or how it works or where and how they can compete. Coaches are also rare, not many people are prepared to take on the challenge of coaching an athlete with a disability.

The coaches, volunteers and support we do get, however, makes it worthwhile competing and getting the message out to other disabled persons about the sport.

For those training for the Olympics/Paralympics or who know athletes currently who aspire to compete in Tokyo – how are you/they experiencing the postponement of the 2020 Games?
More generally, how has Covid-19 affected your training or the training of?
The athletes you work with, if at all? Can you identify any silver linings to this situation?

The games were something that everyone worked hard for. All the athletes who were going planned, prepared and dreamed about that moment of competition. So, for some it’s really sad that it has been postponed.

However, I personally, view this as an extra year to prepare even better for the games. I believe there is always a silver lining and for me the fact that I can prepare better is the positive I am taking out of this.

I also have academic aspirations of starting my PHD and I will use some time this year to work on that. So, that is another positive for me personally.

For athletes in general I would say: be thankful that you are safe and healthy, find areas you can improve on and view this as an extra year to work on those specific areas. The games will now be even more rewarding when they happen.

Brother Colm O’Connell has succeeded in coaching many athletes to compete in international athletics without having any previous training in being a coach himself. How Possible is his example in your country? Why or why not?

I believe it is possible. Well, actually I believe anything is possible anywhere. He is a great man and he was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time and he used that to make a difference. He used his presence as a positive influence in the community where he works. And I believe that is possible in any country anywhere. I also admire him greatly for that.