Elana still giv­ing back to her sport

She is in­tent on se­cur­ing Marathon Ma­jors sta­tus for the African con­ti­nent.

The Citizen (KZN) - - SPORT - Wes­ley Bo on

Though she can no longer be seen in ac­tion on the global cir­cuit, former Olympic medal­list Elana Meyer con­tin­ues to play a key role in South African ath­let­ics, and if she has her way, she’ll be turn­ing the Western Cape into a hub for African road run­ning.

Born and raised in Al­ber­tinia, Meyer’s ca­reer be­gan on the dusty roads around her fam­ily’s farm, and her abil­ity as a long-dis­tance run­ner was im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent.

At the age of 13 she won the pop­u­lar Voet van Afrika Half-Marathon, stun­ning her op­po­nents with her spindly legs car­ry­ing her over the chal­leng­ing ter- rain. She was so young that Meyer was scratched from the re­sults as she did not meet the min­i­mum age limit to of­fi­cially take part.

Af­ter link­ing up with her first coach, Charles Faasen, at Robert­son High School, she started fo­cus­ing on shorter dis­tances.

De­spite her im­pres­sive per­for­mances as a teenager, Meyer com­peted against a gen­er­a­tion of dis­tance run­ning stars and she was com­pletely over­shad­owed by the supremely ta­lented Zola Budd who was just five months her se­nior.

While Budd’s ca­reer was de­railed by politi­cians and a some­what greedy fa­ther, and she never re­ally reached her true po­ten­tial, Meyer ul­ti­mately ben­e­fited from stay­ing out of the lime­light.

She flaunted her abil­ity across a range of dis­tances from 1 500m to the marathon, but it was over the longer dis­tances that she ce­mented her place as an in­ter­na­tional star.

Dur­ing a stel­lar ca­reer which in­cluded world-class per­for­mances in track, road run­ning and cross coun­try, she won the World Half-Marathon Cham­pi­onships in 1994 and set five world records over the 15km and 21.1km dis­tances be­tween 1991 and 1999.

She will be best re­mem­bered, how­ever, for a race she did not win.

To this day, Meyer’s beam­ing smile while shar­ing a vic­tory lap with Ethiopian win­ner Der­artu Tulu at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics re­mains one of the most iconic im­ages in South African sport, and though she set­tled for the 10 000m sil­ver medal, she was both re­lieved and de­lighted to have achieved the feat.

“I had qual­i­fied to com­pete at the Olympic Games in 1984 (in Los An­ge­les, where Budd turned out for Great Bri­tain) but be­cause of iso­la­tion I didn’t get the chance un­til 1992,” she says, re­call­ing the build-up to the Barcelona Games.

“I had min­i­mal in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and we had re­ally just been chas­ing the clock at home, so I was tac­ti­cally in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and the un­cer­tainty around the Games also made it very dif­fi­cult. Even af­ter the IOC (In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee) an­nounced that we’d be able to com­pete, there was still a lot of po­lit­i­cal ten­sion at home, and while I was pre­par­ing in Europe I was re­ceiv­ing faxes to say the de­ci­sion had been over­turned.

“It was a roller­coaster ride and it was dif­fi­cult to fo­cus on train­ing. Ninety per­cent of the ques­tions at press con­fer­ences were about apartheid, and I’m not a politi­cian, so there was that spot­light placed on me as well.

“There was a lot of ex­pec­ta­tion back home be­cause our team hadn’t done as well as many had ex­pected, and I had looked for­ward to that day since I was nine years old, so to pull off the medal was a very emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The 52-year-old mother of two still runs reg­u­larly, and though she is no longer com­pet­i­tive, she re­mains en­trenched in the sport which car­ried her to fame and glory.

Hav­ing played a key role in de­vel­op­ing and sup­port­ing South African dis­tance run­ning through both the JAG Foun­da­tion and the En­duro­cad Academy, per­haps the big­gest con­tri­bu­tion she has made to the sport has been her in­volve­ment in re­launch­ing the San­lam Cape Town Marathon.

A cen­tral fig­ure in the tremen­dous growth of the race over the last few years, as an am­bas­sador along­side former Spring­bok rugby cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar, Meyer has as­sisted in el­e­vat­ing it to top-flight sta­tus.

The only race in Africa with an IAAF Gold La­bel tag, she hopes it will con­tinue to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for ta­lented lo­cal run­ners to com­pete against the in­ter­na­tional elite on home soil.

She is also eager to as­sist in lift­ing the race even fur­ther by gain­ing World Marathon Ma­jors sta­tus, which is cur­rently held by only six road races around the globe.

“Three Ma­jors are in Amer­ica, two are in Europe and one is in Asia, so there’s def­i­nitely an im­bal­ance in terms of the lo­ca­tions,” she says.

“Africa is the home of the world’s best marathon run­ners and the south­ern hemi­sphere should have a Ma­jor.

“There is mega-fund­ing re­quired and it’s not an easy thing to achieve, so it’s a big dream, but I do be­lieve it’s a re­al­is­tic dream.”

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

DOYENNE. Elana Meyer has spent of her life in­volved in ath­let­ics and re­mains com­mit­ted to the sport even in re­tire­ment.

Pic­ture: AFP

FA­MOUS MO­MENT. Meyer burst onto the scene in 1992 when she grabbed a sil­ver medal be­hind Ethiopia’s Der­artu Tulu in the 10 000m at the Barcelona Olympics.

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