Team South Africa will have the strongest possible long-distance running contingent at the Tokyo Olympic Games. And the team might, for the first time, win a medal in that category since, Josiah Thugwane, won the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The marathon team boasts experienced and seasoned runners such as SA 5 000 metres record holder, Elroy Gellant, and SA marathon record holder, Gerda Steyn. However, Desmond Mokgobu, and running sensation, Precious Mashele, will also be going all out for podium places, at the World’s greatest sporting spectacle in Japan.
Competing at the Olympic Games is every elite athlete’s dream. And, many will see their dreams become a reality this year after the four-yearly event was postponed last year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The postponement was a blessing in disguise for 5 000 and 10 000 metres sensation, Precious Mashele, who would have missed out had the Games been staged last year.
The 30-year-old Mashele qualified in spectacular fashion on the last day of qualification by winning the 5 000 metres at a small elite meeting in Durban a fortnight ago.
“I didn’t give up, I just told myself I just said if athletics South Africa can bring pacemakers I will make it – and finally I made it and I am very happy. I am ready to face those guys from east Africa and from Europe.”
While endurance is crucial in long-distance running, marathon runner, Desmond Mokgobu, and Mashele also did some pace work which might be what puts them in contention for a medal. The two will compete at the Olympic Games for the first time, but they are not going there to make up the numbers.
“My dream is to finish in the top three so that I can get a medal and change my life because we don’t have a sponsor and enough support. So if I can win a medal I’ll be happy.”
Marathon coach, Hendrik Ramaala, and running legend, Shadrack Hoff, who were rivals during the peak of their careers, agree the talented runners have the potential to win an Olympic Games medal.
“Long-distance is growing again, we have a full team of very knowledgeable athletes. Very hard working and they know what is expected of them and they are going to push hard to make the country proud,” says Ramaala.
Hoff agrees, “This team I think they are more than prepared, they’re going there, everyone expects the east Africans to get golds. Our boys are ready, this time around they are more than ready than before.”
Members of Team South Africa have been leaving in batches to minimise the risk of contracting COVID-19 – with Mashele to be in the group that will depart for Tokyo on Tuesday.
Team South Africa list finalised for the Tokyo Olympic Games: