Cronje first showed his true potential when he finished fifth in the boys’ 1 500m final at the World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz in 1999, and the following year he was again fifth at the World Junior Championships in Santiago.
He waited more than a decade, however, for his breakthrough season as a senior athlete, improving Johan Landsman’s 20-year-old national record when he clocked 3:33.46 in Doha in May, before snatching a surprise bronze medal at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow last week.
Having finally taken over the mantle as the country’s best middle-distance runner, Cronje is delighted that everything is coming together.
“My training this season was more or less the same,” he said this week.
“This year I was lucky enough not to land up with any serious injuries, something that has plagued me throughout my athletics career.
“The other thing I did differently was listen to my body. If I felt tired from a heavy week of hard training I would take a day off and rest, rather than push my body which is something I didn’t always do and probably the reason I was so injury prone.
“As they say, with age comes wisdom.”
Setting his sights on another podium finish at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year, provided the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) lifts the suspension of Athletics SA and clears the way for athletes to compete, Cronje is as hungry as ever.
He also hopes to better his own national mark in the metric mile.
“The Commonwealth Games is up next and I’d like to improve on the bronze there,” he said.
“Anything less than that and I’ll be disappointed, but that’s if Sascoc selects me to represent the country again. My goal with the SA record is to bring it as close as possible to 3:30, which I definitely feel I can do.”
Having focussed on the 800m and 1 500m events throughout his career, Cronje is not yet considering a step up in distance.
And when he does, it may not be a conventional move by simply adding a few more laps to his track races or switching to the road. I feel I’m still quite competitive in those disciplines,” he said.
“I might consider doing steeplechase before stepping up to the 5000m, or even the marathon.”