Make the Race Hap­pen

SLOW Magazine - - Contents -

In 1992, South African long-dis­tance run­ner Elana Meyer made Olympic his­tory with her iconic Olympic 10,000-m race against Ethiopian run­ner Der­artu Tulu – but few re­alise that Meyer first had to make that race hap­pen through hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion. Dur­ing the race, it was Meyer who made the first break that ig­nited this con­test and turned it into one of the most mem­o­rable mo­ments in Olympic his­tory. She did so be­cause in her world, you don’t wait for that per­fect mo­ment – you make it hap­pen. “You’ll have so few chances in life where you get that per­fect mo­ment to ex­e­cute some­thing amaz­ing. You have to take that brave step and just do it. I made that race. I made the move. I didn’t walk away with a gold medal, but it meant gold to me. I be­lieve you have to make things hap­pen. You must be the rain­maker.”

With the launch of En­duro­cad in 2013, her run­ning academy fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing dis­tance ath­letes, Meyer is be­ing ev­ery bit “the rain­maker”.

Meyer be­lieves that South African ath­let­ics is un­der­per­form­ing at dis­tance level. “Cur­rently our sprint­ers are do­ing well, but tra­di­tion­ally we had a wealth of dis­tance run­ners win­ning big city marathons and Olympic marathons. But we’re go­ing through a drought in that now. We launched En­duro­cad to specif­i­cally fo­cus on the de­vel­op­ment of mid­dle and marathon ath­letes.”

This year, En­duro­cad hosted its first high­per­for­mance as­sess­ment camp.

“We in­vited 20 girls from across the coun­try and tested them phys­i­o­log­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. It was a phe­nom­e­nal camp. I be­lieve there is a gen­er­a­tion of 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds that want to do well, and I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing them ma­ture. They’ve got a strong will and it’s about en­sur­ing that they stay in the sys­tem and ma­ture as se­nior ath­letes.

“We’ve had tal­ented young girls be­fore, but some­how they fall through the cracks be­fore they ma­ture into se­nior ath­letes.

“I be­lieve we have the calibre of women ath­letes in this coun­try to re­ally do well on the in­ter­na­tional level. We’ll prob­a­bly only see the fruits of this in­vest­ment in four to eight years.”

But Meyer goes on to say that within three years she’s al­ready seen the dif­fer­ence in per­for­mances. “In 2012, there were only three women run­ning Olympic qual­i­fy­ing times in the marathon, but last year for Rio we had eight. It’s mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, but I think we’re still a long way from where we should be.”

Meyer steers clear of men­tion­ing any spe­cific names, but she looks for­ward to cel­e­brat­ing South African dis­tance run­ners in the fu­ture. “Hope­fully by 2020, I’ll be sit­ting in the stands cheer­ing young South African women on who came through our sys­tem.”

For Meyer, the sup­port sys­tems around th­ese young ath­letes are key to their de­vel­op­ment. “In the cur­rent era, a lot of our run­ners run for sur­vival rather than ex­cel­lence. We need to make sure our ath­letes have their ba­sic needs cov­ered so that they can run for ex­cel­lence. You can’t fo­cus on the fi­nan­cial re­ward. I be­lieve the fi­nan­cial re­ward will come when you achieve ex­cel­lence.

“Be­ing a dis­tance run­ner you need to put in a good seven to 10 years to reap the re­wards. So when you make de­ci­sions based purely on the fi­nan­cial gain, you will not last long.”

Meyer’s own ca­reer is an­other key les­son for any young ath­lete. “I of­ten find that young­sters are scared to be the out­stand­ing per­former and are scared to fail, so they of­ten just stay in this safe zone be­cause then they’re like ev­ery­body else. The gift I was given by my par­ents was never to be scared to try things. As coaches, that’s the great­est gift we can give our young ath­letes – the space to try ev­ery­thing to the fullest of their abil­ity. Be brave, be bold, and try.”

Make some­thing hap­pen. Make the race hap­pen.

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