Elana Meyer is one of the country’s finest athletes. As South Africa honours its women this month and citizens engage in a national conversation on positive values, diagnosis she spoke to Karien Jonckeere about how she finally got to her dream Olympics.
Like many South Africans growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, prescription Elana Meyer didn’t even dream she would make it to an Olympic Games.
But as the years passed, there and the country edged towards democracy and a return to the international fold, a flicker of hope ignited in the long distance star. Finally in 1992, her patient persistence paid off – she became the first South African to win an Olympic medal in 32 years.
“Growing up, the thought of competing internationally was so far removed from us. Zola (Budd) and I had been big rivals from when we were 13 and so when she went to compete for Britain in 1984, that’s when it became more of a reality,” explained Meyer, who retired from the sport only last year.
“I actually ran a qualifying time for the 1984 Olympics so I was watching with big eyes, but I didn’t have a British grandfather like Zola did, so I knew it wasn’t going to happen like that for me.”
Instead the determined Meyer decided to shift her focus and although she couldn’t compete against international athletes in the flesh, she devised another method of doing so.
“After those Olympics, my focus moved from trying to be the best in South Africa to competing against the international athletes on paper and trying to better their times,” she explained.
“Then in the early 90s the political situation started to change and that gave me a lot of hope that we could be accepted back into international athletics.”
Meyer said that the early 90s were “very up and down times”, with hope and uncertainty among athletes.
“The lead up to the 1992 Olympics was a bit of a rollercoaster ride as to whether we were being accepted back and could compete in Barcelona or not,” she explained. “It was very on and off. I would get faxes saying it might happen and then it was off again because the two athletics bodies hadn’t unified yet.
“So the moment I walked into the stadium for my first heat was when I believed it was actually real. I could believe it and it wasn’t a dream.
“I had waited for such a long time so when I walked into the stadium I was very emotional. I had missed a few good years of competing internationally but there were a lot of great athletes in South Africa who never got to compete. It’s almost difficult to describe.
“It was all very emotional, and not just my race and the medal but just being there. I had looked forward to it for so many years. It was very, very special.”
After the long wait, it was Meyer who claimed South Africa’s first Olympic medal in 32 years, finishing with silver in the 10,000m.
“Obviously to get the medal was the cherry on top. And the silver meant gold to me. There had been a lot of political pressure and for me the celebrations afterwards were just spontaneous. I was just so happy. I had trained so hard for so many years and it turned out to be a great thing for all South Africans. It was great for African women. Derartu Tulu (the Ethiopian who won the race) became the first black woman from Africa to win an Olympic gold medal.” – Heartlines Features.
By Karien Jonckeere.