Elana looks back to Barcelona, and ahead to London
THE London Olympics which get under way Friday will be a mammoth occasion for South African athletes, but it will not be as nerve-wracking as the 1992 Barcelona Games when SA took part for the first time since readmission to international sport.
It was Elana Meyer who put SA back on the Olympic spotlight with a silver medal in 10000m, one of two from the Barcelona Games with the other – also silver – coming from tennis doubles pair Wayne Ferreira and Pietie Norval.
Apartheid, which had led to the country’s isolation from international sport, denied Meyer participation in two previous Games before 1992. She had run qualifying times for the 1984 and 1988 Games, but would only make her debut once apartheid had been abolished.
“It was a rollercoaster ride to get there,” recalls Meyer.
“Only months before Barcelona we got confirmation that SA would be welcome and we had to go (qualify) through Africa. Our first appearance outside SA was in Dakar, Senegal for the Unity Games, and then the African champs in Mauritius before we were cleared to compete. During that period there was political unrest with the Boipatong massacre which put our participation in doubt again.”
However, this time, Meyer and other SA athletes’ dreams of taking part in the Olympics came true with their focus being getting experience on the international stage
“I stayed focused on the task at hand – the 10 000m in Barcelona. When I finally got there, it was like a dream come true. Seeing all the global sport stars gave me confirmation that we had arrived and would be part of the biggest sporting spectacular,” she said.
Meyer added that she went to the Games with big expectations, and wanted nothing less than to bring home a medal. In the year leading up to the Games, she had shown some world-class performances in the track, but saved her energies for a medal in Barcelona.
She did it! Meyer won silver behind Ethiopian Derartu Tulu. The two victorious African went around the track in a symbolic and emotional victory lap, hand in hand.
“To win the silver medal meant gold to me. I was filled with so much relief and happiness after I won the medal for SA. The celebration of the victory lap was more than just winning the medal – it was also a celebration of being back in the international sporting arena,” said Meyer.
The former Olympian believes that the current Olympic team have better opportunities to do better than the Class of 1992, and remains optimistic that they can bring back the targeted 12 medals from the London Games.
“I think it is possible to bring back 12, but if I had to predict and back it – it will be for five – just because it is such a huge occasion where there are so many factors that can affect performance and there are a lot of really hungry athletes out there competing for medals,” she said.
Her advice for Team SA: “Stay focused on your task at hand – keep doing the basics right – eat, drink, sleep the way you always have been – enjoy the environment and make the most of it. Give it your best and have fun.”
The 46-year-old has been the chief executive of the JAG foundation, a social upliftment programme for the past five years.
“We focus on using sport, play and educational programmes for social upliftment, where the focus is on sport development, she said.