Rugby sevens spotlight on: Seabelo Senatla
Blitzbokke flyer Seabelo Senatla is the most lethal finisher in sevens rugby, scoring an incredible 157 tries in 144 matches on the HSBC Sevens World Series.
But it’s not just sheer pace that has taken him to the top of the sevens game – he has a maniac work ethic and drive to make it to Rio. If it wasn’t for rugby, he might well be at the Olympics as a specialist sprinter – he clocked 10.6 seconds in the 100m aged 17 without any specialist training. But life has led him down a different path to being a rugby star and he couldn’t be happier…
It’s crazy – I’ve scored well over 100 tries in two seasons. I suppose it looks like try-scoring comes easy to me but a lot of it has to do with the way the team’s structures get me into space. I play with so many talented players and their amazing playmaking skills always put me into good positions. I also put in the hard work – doing speed and sprint drills and other skills. It has been paying off, and that in turn encourages me to work that little bit harder and put in some extra effort.
I’m lucky because I was born with speed, but I still have to do speed work in training all the time. I live by the philosophy that ‘a skill that isn’t practised is a skill you lose’. Speed is no different and if you don’t work on it, you will lose it. Working hard on something like speed is not only to maintain it and improve it but also to keep your own confidence high.
I have total belief in myself. Once I put my mind to something and get my head around the challenge I usually achieve it. If I had pursued sprinting as a career, I believe I’d have been somewhere in that discipline today. I’m addicted to getting better – progress is my addiction. I would have cut it if I had chosen that path.
I ran against Wayde van Niekerk at U17 level. It was in the Free State Championships and in the 200m I came second to him (the current world 400m champion and the only man in history to break 10 seconds in the 100m, 20 seconds in the 200m and 44 seconds in the 400m).
My first memory of the Olympics was watching Marion Jones win the 100m and 200m in Sydney in 2000. I was really young but something about Marion shocked me, in a good way, and I became addicted to running and trying to be like her. After her races I went outside and ran around the garden imitating her. I now watch the Olympics religiously and I also follow the Diamond League closely because athletics is still very close to my heart.
“Once I put my mind to something I usually achieve it. Progress is my addiction”
I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics. As a young athlete at school, I dreamt of running at the Olympics and now I have the chance as a rugby player, which is amazing. There have been sacrifices along the way but going to the Olympics makes it worth it.
Having been at the Commonwealth games, I have an inkling of what it’ll be like to walk out at the stadium in Rio. The Commonwealth Games in 2014 (in Glasgow) was one of my best experiences ever, so thinking about being an Olympian is crazy. It gives me goosebumps. It’s huge. As an athlete, it can’t get better than being at an Olympics.
I’m comfortable with my decision to put my 15s ambitions on hold for the moment. It’s been the right decision. Playing 15s for the Springboks has been my dream since I took up rugby seriously and it still is, but when I heard that sevens was going to be part of the Olympics my vision changed. I’m a contracted sevens Bok until the end of the year and my plan after the Olympics is to return to 15s and focus on that. but if Bok coach Allister Coetzee calls me up for the Rugby Championship after Rio, of course I’d love to play. It might be too soon but I would jump at it.
Carlin Isles and Perry Baker are quick. Carlin would probably win a race between us, but Perry and I would be neck and neck. I’m not really bothered that I’m not the fastest man on the circuit, though, because sevens is not only about speed; it’s about positioning and how you read the game and so many other aspects. Having speed is an advantage but sevens rugby is not all about that. you have to have so many other skills to be the complete rugby player.
It would be great to watch a football match in Brazil. Or go to the famous beaches and see some of the history of the country. Obviously that will have to wait until after the sevens in Rio is finished.
I’m not even thinking about the Zika virus. My mother is stressing about it too much, but I keep reassuring her that we are receiving medical information from our doctors. And I’m just focused on the rugby.