Abrahm Louw established himself as one of Africa’s top triathletes when he won a silver medal at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique in September.
South Africa’s Erhard Wolfaardt won the gold medal after completing the 750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run in 58 minutes 30 seconds. Louw came second, 43 seconds behind, while another South African Wian Sullwald came third in 1:01:46.
There were some close shaves for Louw as he nearly crashed on the cycling leg, while he was also slapped with a 15 second time penalty for parking his bike illegally, but in the end he comfortably held on for second place, to finish well ahead of Sullwald.
It was a great performance by the 19-year-old Louw who showed that he has the potential to excel on the international stage. Before Maputo he had mostly been competing on the Junior or Under 23 circuit, but now he came of age, excelling against the continent’s top senior triathletes. It underlined the great potential that he has shown from an early age.
The early years
Louw was born in Otjiwarongo in 1992, and later moved to Tsumeb where he grew up with his mother Annemarie and two brothers Bertus and Hardus. His father Leon initially had to work in a different town, and Abrahm’s early memories are of having to travel a lot to visit him over weekends.
“My dad Leon and mom Annemarie, worked in different towns, and it was kind of hard traveling every weekend to visit him,” he said.
At the age of nine Abrahm started with swimming lessons, but it was only three years later that his swimming career started to take off.
When he was 12 his father bought a business in Tsumeb and rejoined the family. Since the public pool in the town had earlier closed down, his father built a 25m, three-lane indoor swimming pool for his sons to continue their swimming training.
It was a great investment and all three sons started to excel in local galas. Louw excelled as a backstroke and breaststroke swimmer and set numerous national age group records, some of which are still standing today.
By 2006, Abrahm received his Namibian colours in swimming for the first time when he was selected to participate in the African Junior Swimming Championships in Mauritius.
Although he was only 14 and competing in the Under 17 category, he excelled by finishing amongst the top five swimmers in the 100m freestyle. But despite this tremendous achievement, he could not maintain his interest in swimming.
“I became bored with swimming every day without friends to train with. I only had my brothers and training programmes from the Internet, so I decided to do something different and more exciting. My mom convinced me to do a triathlon because I was a good swimmer, and from that day on I started to take part in mini-triathlons and so became addicted to the sport,” he said.
Moves to South Africa
Abrahm’s parents soon realized that he and younger brother Hardus, who was developing into a fine swimmer, had the potential to excel and that they needed stronger competition and some professional help.
They decided to move to Potchefstroom, South Africa in 2007, and the move soon paid dividends when Abrahm won the Under 15 category at the African Triathlon Championships in Mauritius.
“After returning from the African Championships, I decided to ask Libby Burrell of the International Triathlon Union (ITU) if she would be able to coach me, and from that day on I have only improved, and I realized that I can reach great heights in this sport,” he said.
Since 2008 Abrahm has been competing on the international junior triathlon circuit and he soon made a name for himself amongst the world’s best.
In 2008 he won the Under 17 African Championships in Tunisia while he finished 20th at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver.
In 2009 he won the Under 19 African Championships in Durban; came third at the Junior European Cup in Hungary; and came sixth at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival.
He also qualified for the Youth Olympic Games when he won the Pretoria ITU African Youth Olympic Games Qualifier in South Africa.
In 2010, Louw also excelled on the Junior European Triathlon circuit, by winning a gold medal at the Tabor ETU Junior European Cup and a silver medal at the Encternach ETU Junior European Cup race in Luxembourg.
In August, 2010 Louw made his mark against some of the world’s top junior tri-athletes when he came fifth out of 33 competitors at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. He started off strongly in the swimming leg and was joint first out of the water but he dropped off the pace on the final running leg, to finish in fifth position, 44 seconds behind the winner.
U23 African champion
Louw’s good form has continued this year and on July 3 he excelled by winning the U23 category at the African Triathlon Championships held in Maputo, Mozambique, while he finished third overall in the Elite Men’s category.
Louw came out of the water first and broke away on the cycling leg to build up a lead of 2 minutes 40 seconds, going into the final running leg.
Louw however tired on the running leg and was overtaken by South Africa’s Robert Murray and Hendrik de Villiers just before the final lap.
Murray went on to win the race, with De Villiers, who was the 2008 African champion, second in the elite category of the race. In the same race, Erhard Wolfaardt of South Africa finished fifth.
Louw also competed on the international triathlon circuit in Europe, coming 39th in Hungary, 34th in Lausanne, Switzerland and second in the Asian Cup in Singapore.
By now, Louw had established himself amongst the top senior triathletes on the continent and it came as no surprise when he won a silver medal at the All Africa Games. He was however a bit disappointed at not beating Wolfaardt, since he had done it before.
“If I had more time to prepare, thing could have gone better, but I’m happy,” he said after the race.
He added that his rivalry with Wolfaardt was quite intense as the South African used illegal tactics during the swimming leg.
“When we reached the buoy, Erhard tried to push me aside so that I could not go round it. I had no option but to swim over him because there was no space left,” he said.
Pursuing his dream
Louw has now firmly set his sights on qualifying for the 2012 London Olympic Games, but to do that he will have to improve his world ranking or hope to receive a wild card entry that is available for each continent.
He is currently ranked 133 in the world, but he has only competed in two events on the senior international triathlon circuit due to the high costs involved. The top 50 triathletes in the world automatically qualify for the Olympic Games and Louw reckons he could reach this target if he could compete more regularly.
The top 50 triathletes qualify for the Olympic Games. But each continent also gets one ‘new flag spot’ or a wildcard spot. At the moment Im trying to get that spot but there is also tough competition from Morocco and Zimbabwe.
“The top triathletes in the world compete at at least seven events during the year. But it is very expensive and I could only afford to compete at two events. If I can compete at the same number of races I am sure that I could break into the top 50 in the world,” he said.
“I am being sponsored by BSG, an IT company in South Africa. I also got a scholarship through the IOC’s Olympic Solidarity movement but that was just enough to compete in two international events. If I can get a bigger sponsor it will help me realise my dream of competing at the Olympic Games” he said.
Abrahm Louw Factfile:
Date of birth: 9 April 1992
Place of birth: Otjiwarongo
School: Etosha High School
Favourite food: Anything, but no sugar
Most memorable achievement: Nothing specifically. I just feel happy and proud every day for what I receive and achieve.
Ambition: To qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games