Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 143, July 2021 July 2020 - Page 17

her hip in two places . Her time of 54.53 in the semi-final would have won her the bronze medal in the final , and I remember thinking , “ Damn , there goes a medal .”
Colleen de Reuck finished ninth in the women ’ s marathon , Xolile Yawa was 13th in the 10,000m , and Zola Budd was ninth in the women ’ s 3000m , but it was that epic 10,000m that stands out for so many reasons . It was an epic tussle . It was history . It was South Africa ’ s golden girl . As for many other South Africans , Barcelona was my first real taste of the Olympic Games . It was not just about names you had read about , it was about athletes we had seen compete in the flesh and blood here at home . It was personal . And Elana Meyer literally ran with the weight of a nation ’ s expectation and hope on her shoulders .
1996 … Zeekie and Josia Make History
While the 1992 Games were special for so many reasons , for me the 1996 Games in Atlanta were personal . I had started working in sports marketing in 1994 , and had met both Hezekiel ( Zeekie ) Sepeng and Josia Thugwane on more than one occasion , and felt a particular bond with them . In fact , I was managing the media around the SA Marathon Championships in 1996 when Josia qualified for the Games by winning the national title .
the tracks of South Africa . So , to be able to work with some of these athletes later on , and then to witness Josia ’ s incredible win at the Cape Town Marathon had me salivating at the prospect of the men ’ s marathon in Atlanta . And when the men reached 25km in the race and there were three green and gold vests leading the race , I was jumping up and down with pride and excitement .
Thys and Peu would eventually fade , but Josia stuck with the leaders and gradually the pack fell away until there were only three ... Josia , Lee Bong Ju ( South Korea ) and Eric Wainana ( Kenya ). At the last feeding station , Josia missed his bottle as he made his move , but I remember cringing , “ Why did you not take your bottle ?” It was strategically the best move he could have made , though , and Josia went into the lead , and that was it . As he won , I phoned anyone that I knew to let them know , as there were no cellphones and chat groups in those days . Fortunately this race was midday South African time , so I didn ’ t wake people up !
2000 … Combating Jetlag
The SA Champs were part of the Old Mutual Cape Town Marathon , and Old Mutual was my client at the time . I vividly remember sitting on the press truck , watching Josia and Nixon Nkodima engaged in a battle royale for the title . The winner was guaranteed a slot on the Olympic team , along with Xolile Yawa , Gert Thys and Lawrence Peu , and Josia won … by three seconds . And so started one of the most incredible stories of South African road running , and of South Africa at the Olympics .
The SA Marathon Champs were held in February , the Olympic Marathon was on 4 August . Just a month after booking his ticket to Atlanta , Josia was car-jacked and shot by the thieves , the bullet crazing his chin , and he injured his back as he jumped out of his moving car . By rights , he should not have made it to the Games , never mind put on arguably the best ever performance by a South Africa at the Games ( until Wayde van Niekerk came along ), but come 4 August , he was lining up alongside Gert Thys and Lawrence Peu . In another twist of fate , Josia had been the traveling reserve for the marathon and was not supposed to start , but XY ( Xolile Yawa ) picked up a serious bout of flu , and so lent Josia his kit . History was about to be made .
Four days before the marathon , Zeekie had made history by becoming South Africa ’ s first black medallist in the modern era with his silver in the men ’ s 800m . He clocked 1:42.74 behind Norway ’ s Vebjorn Rodahl , and I remember screaming at the television set in the early hours of the morning as Hezekiel found himself boxed in when the athletes came around the top bend and into the final 100m . ( I had taken leave so that I could stay up all night and watch the Games , given the time difference between South Africa and the USA .) I ’ ll never forget how he ‘ nudged ’ Kenya ’ s David Kiptoo to make some space , and the poor Kenyan was literally catapulted to the side , giving Hezekiel the gap he needed to get out of the box . He went from fifth to second in those final 80m , and it looked as if he would catch Rodahl , but he literally ran out of track . Even when the replays came up , I still thought he would win gold . Alas …
My passion for the middle distances and road racing had been awakened in the late 80 ’ s / early 90 ’ s from watching the likes of Johan Fourie , Bennie Greyling , Deon Brummer , Xolile Yawa , Zithulele Sinqe , Mathews Temane , Elana Meyer , Colleen de Reuck and Gwen Griffiths ( now van Lingen ) racing on the roads and around
Sydney 2000 was an epic Olympics , and that famous men ’ s 10,000m final was one of the best races I ever witnessed . Kenya ’ s Paul Tergat was the perennial runner-up to the great Haile Gebrsellasie of Ethiopia , but Sydney was to be his best shot at Olympic Gold , as Geb was injured and Tergat was in the best shape of his life . In typical Tergat fashion , he wound up the pace from 7km and dropped all and sundry ... except his nemesis , arch-rival and good friend Geb .
Into the home straight and both men were straining , literally racing neck and neck . Tergat ’ s white teeth stood out starkly against his dark skin , glistening like headlights , grinding and gnashing as he strained to finally beat Gebrsllasie , but the Ethiopian literally out-dipped him . The winning margin of that 10,000m was tighter than the men ’ s 100m final … Geb won his second Olympic gold by beating Tergat by 9 / 100th of a second , whereas the 100m winning split was 12 / 100th !
Coming into the Games , SA ’ s Llewellyn Herbert was tipped to win gold in the 400m hurdles , but an inspired run by America ’ s Angelo Taylor in lane one stunned everyone , and he had to settle for bronze . High-jumper Hestrie Cloete won the
Hezekiel ( Zeekie ) Sepeng Josia Thugwane
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