You could say it’s been a pretty good year for Cornel Fredericks. The South African 400m hurdler finished his season with Commonwealth, African and Continental Cup titles in his locker and is ranked joint second in the world. But how did he do it?

Fredericks always had talent. He was a 400m hurdles finalist at both the 2007 World Youth and 2008 World Junior Championships. Two years later, at the age of just 20, he landed an African silver medal in his event. 

In 2011 Fredericks blitzed to a personal best of 48.14 to stand sixth in the world lists, and finished fifth at the Daegu World Championships. Yet 2012 and 2013 proved traumatic for Fredericks both on and off the track.  

Just one month before the London Olympics his coach Bruce Longden – the man who guided Sally Gunnell to World and Olympic 400m hurdles titles – died at the age of 72. Then at the Games he suffered further despair, tearing a hamstring in the heats to limp home last.

More frustration followed in 2013 as he struggled to recapture his best form. He missed out on a spot in the final of the Moscow World Championships by one place.

Cornel Fredericks SPIKES ()

Back winning - Fredericks finished his 2014 with a victory at the Continental Cup

The Pretoria-based athlete, who is coached by Hennie Kotze, knew he needed a fresh approach if he was to fire on all cylinders in 2014. Here's what he and his team put in place to ensure the year would be a success.

1. Strength and Conditioning

After struggling to keep up with the very best in the world during the second half of races, Fredericks started working with a strength and conditioning coach – Wayne Coldman – for the first time in is career. They worked on a range of exercises to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes. Focusing on more explosive exercises has proved decisive during the 2014 season.

“I never really knew what that [strength and conditioning] part of my training would do for my running,” he explains. “I found this year I could keep up with the guys in the second 200m, and also coming down the home straight.”

2. No fear

In the past, Fredericks had run with a lack of belief against the world's top 400m hurdlers. No more. In his second race of the season outside South Africa he ran 48.58 for third at the New York Diamond League, and the performance created a mental shift.

Cornel Fredericks SPIKES ()

Not afraid of the big guys anymore...

“I was quite surprised by the result so early in the season,” he says. “That was a positive sign for me. From that point on, I was able to control my fears. I told myself if I want to be one of the best hurdlers in the world, I need that self-confidence. I no longer feared the top guys.”

3. The right support

Thanks to the excellent medical support, Fredericks was able to nurse Achilles tendon and hamstring niggles and withstand the rigours of a tough, six-month long 17-race season. 

“I was able to identify a good team around me and they made it easier for me to compete to the best of my abilities,” he explains. “My Olympic federation put a lot of support into my [medical preparation] especially when overseas. This made it so much easier to manage my niggles and it allowed me to run as fast as I could every race.” 

Cornel Fredericks SPIKES ()

Smooth Operator: Fredericks takes gold at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games

4. Fast friends and killer sessions

Being part of a high-quality seven-strong training group - a group that also includes his compatriot and former Commonwealth and African 400m hurdles champion L.J. Van Zyl - has proven instrumental in his success. Training under Kotze's direction for a second season has also paid dividends for Fredericks.

“There are seven guys all training to run 48/49 seconds for the 400m hurdles,” he explains. “We have a good culture here in Pretoria and it is motivating to train with athletes of that calibre. It is also always nice when the other guys look up to you and I can sometimes stake a lead in the group.”

One regular session, which he is adamant improved his speed endurance for 2014, was 5x300m with 5mins recovery between each rep – all run under 37secs! “That session really killed me,” he says.   

5. Taming the beard

A hairy wildebeest during the off-season, the morning of a big event Fredericks brings out the clippers and shaves off the bushy beard and long locks. That was his routine on the morning of his heats of the Commonwealth Games.

“It makes me feel right for a competition,” he says of his quirky superstition. Quirk or no quirk: it works.