Athlete of the Week: Tumble at state fuels CF’s Pieterse

cfxc-pieterse3The state record books will show that Carolina Forest junior Lisa Pieterse finished fifth in last Saturday’s Class 4A Cross Country Championship.

What the records won’t show is that Pieterse tripped and fell just 300 meters into the start of the 5K race. No one will ever know if that stumble cost her a state championship.

“I was on the outside where (there wasn’t as much traffic) but I touched feet with another girl and went down,” Pieterse recalled. “I don’t think it cost me as much in time as it just threw off my rhythm for the rest of the race.

“That was the first time it happened to me in cross country and I think it just threw me off mentally. It was just so disappointing because I had run so well at Lower State and I was really feeling good about the course.”

Pieterse still managed to navigate the Sandhills Research Center’s hilly course in 18:38.74, knocking almost two full minutes off her 23rd-place showing in last year’s state meet. She spent the entire year training, and the clock proved it.

Ironically, Pieterse’s mother and training partner, Zola Budd Pieterse, was involved in a highly controversial misstep in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, when she and American Mary Decker had contact in the home stretch of the 5000 meters.

“She agreed with what my coach told me: It’s just one race,” Pieterse said. “I was disappointed for a couple of days after and he said, ‘You have had such a great season. Don’t let one race ruin it.’ My mom agreed with that so I’m trying to move on and keep improving.”

Pieterse’s personal-best time of 17:35 certainly puts her in the mix to post a winning time in 2014, but it may be her personal low – an ill-fated tumble on the worst possible day – that drives her to go for the gold next year.

“I’m glad I have one more year,” said Pieterse, trying to look on the bright side. “Sometimes things like that just happen, and it just makes me want it that much more.”

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