Even among the more than 300 world-leading young athletes gathering in Nottwil, Switzerland for the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships this week, South Africa’s Simone Kruger is liable to stand out.
Not many 14-year-olds get to compete in a Junior World Championships but even fewer do as a reigning world record holder and current world rankings leader in not one but two events.
“I do feel more confident going back to the Juniors,” said Kruger who threw 10.16m in the F38 shot put and 33.09m in the F38 discus in March this year to comfortably top both world standings.
“It’s nice to compete in both senior and junior [categories] but for me I compete against myself. I try not think about the other competitors much. If I do my best then that is good enough,” she added.
I want to break the world record at the Paralympics, I don’t know which one, and get a gold. We are aiming for Tokyo, with the world record and everything we want to move forwards and go to the bigger events.
Inspiration from Mahlangu
Given those figures, it is perhaps no wonder that people are already comparing the teenager with compatriot Ntando Mahlangu who burst on to the international scene with four gold medals at the 2017 World Para Athletics Junior Championships also in Nottwil.
Mahlangu’s story has spread far and wide since he claimed the 100m, 200m and 400m junior crowns in the T42/47 category and took the long jump F42/47 title two years ago.
The youngster from Pretoria did not leave his wheelchair for the first 10 years of his life but has been making up for it ever since. After dominating the junior scene, the double-above-the-knee amputee went to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and grabbed silver in the T42 200m.
“It is inspiring to watch him and to know how everything has happened for him, from when he was small to now. He has improved so much and got so strong and now he is top of the world,” said Kruger, who considers herself lucky to have a direct connection with the burgeoning star.
“He goes to school close to me and so I sometimes see him at athletics meeting and he is also in my club.”
Plans for Dubai and Tokyo
While Kruger wants to use Mahlangu as the yardstick, she is understandably keen to make her own mark. And she is not shy with her ultimate ambitions.
“I want to break the world record at the Paralympics, I don’t know which one, and get a gold,” Kruger said.
“We are aiming for Tokyo, with the world record and everything we want to move forwards and go to the bigger events and compete against my category [at a senior level] so I can have stronger competitors,” she added.
“Hopefully I make the team. First, I have to be on the team to go to the Worlds in November [in Dubai]. We don’t know how many they are going to choose for that team.
“It’s going to be hard in the next few months but exciting.”
If all does go to plan and Kruger leaves Nottwil with a pair of gold medals before heading to Dubai and then Tokyo she knows that she will owe her family a big debt of gratitude.
Her dad, Andries Kruger, is one of her main coaches and a premier source of support, but it was her elder sister who introduced Simone to the sport she loves.
“I started when my sister wanted to do discus and shot put in able-bodied sport,” Kruger the younger revealed.
“I am a few years younger than her but I did it with her and competed with her for fun. And then I started to enjoy it a lot and then began to do well.”
While the pair remain competitive in most things they do, Simone admits that she relies on her sibling to tell her the hard truths about her performances.
It is something her father excels in too, although his daughter can find it a little harder to hear his criticisms.
“Sometimes it is difficult because you disagree on stuff. He will tell me ‘you must do that’ and I don’t want to do what he is telling me,” Kruger laughed, before she admitted:
“Most of the time he is right though, he does have more experience than me”
In all likelihood the entire Kruger family will have plenty to celebrate in the coming days, not to mention 12 months.