Star javelin thrower Rocco van Rooyen, 23, will look to fly South Africa’s flag high when he competes for a gold medal at the Olympics, in Rio Janeiro, in Brazil, next month.
Van Rooyen is among 39 athletes who will represent the country in track and field events. South Africa has a total of 137 athletes, from a range of disciplines, at the games.
The former Mikro Primary School pupil made the qualifying distance of 83metres, when he threw a personal best of 85.39 metres at the Athletics South Africa (ASA) invitational, at Green Point track, last year.
The versatile athlete said qualifying for the biggest event in the world is a blessing and dream come true.
“When I first heard the news I was on my knees crying because it has been my desire for the past seven or eight years. It is a reward for all the hard efforts, which makes it worth it at the end of the day. The fact that I will be at the Olympics representing my country is a milestone after an injury-plagued season,” he said.
Van Rooyen had a mixed bag of results this year, coming fifth with a distance of 70.41m at the South African championships, in Stellenbosch, in April.
A week later, the former SA champion came second with a distance of 71.48m at the ASA night series, in Port Elizabeth.
This was after he was plagued by a consistent elbow injury that saw him take a dip in form.
Northern News caught up with the former Bellville High School pupil at his old stomping grounds , where he said the biggest problem he’s had was scar tissue from a previous elbow injury.
“It went into a place in my elbow where I was losing strength. There comes that time when you think should I leave this now. Then you think, I have come too far to stop now.
“Two weeks before they made the selections, for instance, I went to my former school to try it again and all of a sudden I found a way to throw. I also established a bit of a rhythm and my throws went up to 78m all in one-day,” he said.
On Saturday July 9, Van Rooyen had to prove his fitness to ASA which was enough to see him make the squad, at Parow track. Although he only threw 74.54m, he still made the squad because of his personal best of 85.39 metres.
The former SA open champion said it is back to the drawing board but physically and emotionally he is in a good space.
“I am excited and the hype is going to be so big. I am not going to think that I have only thrown 74m this year but that I am actually in good form. If everything falls into place I am looking forward to some big throws at the Rio games,” he said.
Last year Van Rooyen had a memorable season, finishing sixth at the Commonwealth Games, in Scotland. He said that his last throw at the Commonwealth Games was enough to see him make the final.
“It created such a sense of relief that I started to dance. It was a joyous occasion and lots of people still ask me what dance will I do next,” said the former African junior champion.
“It was crazy because the Scottish people were so wonderful and passionate. They screamed, cheered and clapped for all the athletes. Scotland is an amazing place,” he said.
Bellville High School principal Deon du Plessis said his message to Van Rooyen was to bring back the gold medal.
“It is great to see one of our former pupils living his dream. It is fantastic to know that all the effort his former teachers and coaches put in has paid off,” he said.
Bellville High head of sport, Margaret Pansegrouw, said Van Rooyen was a real gentleman.
“I never taught Rocco but his former register teacher told me that he never sat in one place, as he was mingling with everyone in the classroom and chatting away.
“When he came to the school in Grade 8, he did not throw javelin. We then decided to teach him because he was a tall guy and he developed quickly,” she said.