Sunday Times

‘Cinderella’ Cian aims to go faster


● Cian Oldknow, who trotted out the second-fastest marathon time by a South African woman last Sunday, is living her dream in Cinderella-esque proportion­s — but only after enduring nightmares.

A year ago, she hadn’t even dared to think she might qualify for the Paris Olympics, particular­ly in her regular 5,000m and 10,000m events.

It was only in October last year that her coach, Pretoria-based George Bradley, suggested she move up to the marathon, reasoning she could get close to the 2hr 26min 50sec Games qualifying standard in that event.

Oldknow, 27, did her maiden marathon in January, and three weeks later in Seville, raced past the finish in 2:25:08. “I crossed the line and I was like, ‘oh, I just qualified for the Olympics’. And then I get to my mom and she’s like, ‘you’re the second fastest South African’.”

Oldknow’s performanc­e also means women’s marathon is the first track-and-field event to have the maximum three automatic Olympic qualifiers, alongside national record-holder Gerda Steyn (2:24:03) and Irvette van Zyl (2:26:11), with Dominique Scott also fighting to get into the frame.

Only 11 South African athletes have achieved qualifying times so far, and the only other discipline with more than one competitor is the men’s 400m, with two.

Women’s marathon is flying, and Oldknow would love to go faster in the future.

It’s a realistic ambition considerin­g how consistent her pacing was last weekend, averaging just over 3min 20sec per kilometre. The second half of her race was merely four seconds faster than the first half. “[Pacing] is one of my strengths,” said the Johannesbu­rgbased sports scientist.

“I think with training by myself most of the time, it’s something I’ve had to kind of learn, especially for training. George will give me a session and he’ll tell me what paces I need to do. I can’t really rely on anyone else for it.”

Oldknow, who now ranks 437th on marathon’s all-time list, would ultimately like to get down to 2:22:00, maybe quicker. “If the American ladies can break 2:20, I don’t see why we as South Africans can’t as well.”

Only 163 women in history have dipped under 2:22:00 to date, and 77 below 2:20:00.

Oldknow carries an iron will which she demonstrat­ed at the African championsh­ips when dislocatin­g her right shoulder racing the 10,000m. She stepped off the track in excruciati­ng pain and, determined to get back into the race, she relaxed and twisted it back in. “The medic was running towards me and I realised if he gets to me, I’m out of the race.”

Oldknow, who has had 12 dislocatio­ns and three shoulder surgeries, continued running and finished the race.

She grew up doing several sports, including orienteeri­ng, swimming and netball, but always loved running. Studying at the University of Johannesbu­rg, she recognised during a sport psychology class that she had the symptoms of depression and anxiety. She also self-harmed and suffered from bulimia.

Oldknow went for counsellin­g and the deeper she dug, childhood memories surfaced of being molested for about five years until the age of 12.

Working through the past trauma unlocked a trove of new memories. “I still get flashbacks which are new, and happy memories as well. I’m learning a lot about my childhood, which has been really nice from both sides.”

For someone whose wildest ambition once was getting to an Olympics, she’s now ramping up her fantasy. “I think you’ve got to dream a little bit, like you’re there in the first place. And I think anything can happen, especially with such a long distance.

“There is a chance where ‘wow’ things happen and you could place like top three. But I think I will definitely aim for like top 15 at least.”

Oldknow is living her best life. “It’s my dream job.”

 ?? ?? Cian Oldknow, who is still recalling memories from her childhood, has big dreams in the women's marathon and Olympics.
Cian Oldknow, who is still recalling memories from her childhood, has big dreams in the women's marathon and Olympics.

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