It’s a long way from Ceres to Flagstaff for South African super-star athlete

Adrian Wildschutt outsprints American Nico Young to record the world's 9th best time ever for the indoor 5000m. Photo - courtesy Adriaan Wildschutt

Adriaan Wildschutt, 25, has come a long way since his early days in the farming community at the Western Cape town of Ceres, but he has his feet firmly on the ground as the multiple track record-breaker sets his sights towards Paris later this year.

Wildschutt and 21 year old  sprinter and hurdler, Marione Fourie, were named as South African athletes of the year at the annual ASA Awards Evening at the Southern Sun Hotel at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on Saturday (27 January ), just a day after Wildschutt added yet another national track record to his already impressive running CV.

Farouk Meyer President of Western Province Athletics receiving the ASA Athlete of the Year Award from the President of ASA Mr James Moloi on behalf of Adriaan Wildchutt. Photo – Courtesy Farouk Meyer

Wildschutt broke South African records over 3000m, 5000m and 10 000m in a stellar 2023, while the talented Fourie’s nomination was largely on the back of her record-breaking run in the 100m hurdles.

Fourie shattered the South African record in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, clocking an impressive 12:53 seconds which surpassed Taylon Bieldt’s previous record of 12:76 set just one month earlier.

Fourie upset the more favoured Gerda Steyn to win the Female Athlete of the Year award, following Steyn’s unique calendar year treble, winning the Two Oceans and Comrades Marathons in record time and setting a new national mark over the standard marathon at Valencia, Spain.

Twenty-five years back twin boys were born into the Wildschutt home in the farming community of Ceres. Both Adriaan and Nadeel showed enthusiasm for running from an early age, with the brothers joining up with former top Western Province distance runner, Moos Hartnick, as coach.

Athletic scholarships at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina in the USA followed for both brothers, where they benefitted from the coaching expertise of another South African great, Zola Budd. Nadeel excelled academically while Adriaan’s running prowess took him to new heights.

Wildschutt joined renowned track coach, Bob Braman, at Florida State University for three years, before moving to Flagstaff Arizona as part of the Hoka North Arizona Elite squad. From his base in Arizona, Wildschutt enjoyed a stellar year in 2023, which saw him embark on a record-breaking spree, setting national marks over 3000m, 5000m and 10 000m.

In form of his life and enjoying a competitive peak, Wildschutt ran ‘wild’ in the Northern hemisphere summer.  He improved Hendrick Ramaala’s 14-year-old 10 000m record by 6 seconds in early May, clocking a superb 27:23,10 at a track meeting in California.  

Adrian Wildschutt outsprints American Nico Young to record a South African record for the indoor 5000m. Photo – courtesy Adriaan Wildschutt

Moving to Europe some weeks later, Wildschutt surpassed his hero, Elroy Gelant over the 5000m.  “Elroy has always been a great person that I especially admired for his athletic ability and always aspired to be as fast as he was,” Wildschutt said in July after blitzing twelve and a half laps of a Belgian track in 13:02,46 to lower Gelant’s former mark by over two seconds.

“Elroy congratulated me by texting after breaking his record, which meant a great deal to me considering that he was the guy that I looked up to as an athlete.”

Wildschutt was not done with South African track records and just a week later he became the first South African to beat the 7:40 mark for 3000m, clocking 7:39,25 in Luzern, Switzerland, lowering Jerry Motsau’s 2021 mark by 1,64 seconds.

After solid years of hard training and commitment, Wildschutt was delighted at winning the ASA trophy. “Wow – when I started out in athletics I would never have imagined that I could win this award,” Wildschutt said from Flagstaff this week. “After last year’s peformances I knew I was in with a chance, but one never can tell.

“It’s nice to be seen in the company with the other guys who were nominated – athletes of the calibre of Wayde van Niekerk – and I’m so grateful for the support of my team at Hoka and my family and friends.”

Wildschutt paid tribute to those who have coached him over the years, but especially Florida State University’s Braman. “I enjoyed a high level of training for three years under Bob Braman,” Wildschutt continued.

“Remarkably I was never once injured during that time and my 10 000m time came down by over a minute soon after linking up with him. We enjoyed excellent resources – I had everything I needed to reach my athletics goals.”

While enjoying the advantages of training with the Hoka team in the USA, Wildschutt’s heart remains in his motherland, and he is committed to running for South Africa for as long as he can. “And now that I’m earning more money, this gives me the opportunity to travel back to South Africa more often.”

And as if to underline his track supremacy, Wildschutt set another national mark the day before awards were announced last weekend, scorching to a 12:56,76 victory in the 5000m at an indoor track meeting in Boston, to move him to ninth on the world 5000m short track (200m) all-time list and signalling his serious intent for the 10 000m at this year’s Paris Olympics.