Khotso a high flyer

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Khotso Mokoena is only 23 years old but he has achieved much more as an athlete than many athletes his age and older.

In spite of his success at his age, Mokoena remains humble and respectful.

He has also refused to let the fame go to his head and does not live life in the fast lane.

A courteous and stylish jumper from Rantanda, Ekurhuleni, Mokoena is among local athletes that South Africa will bank on to win medals at the Beijing Olympics in August.

He is not nervous going to Beijing and instead he is looking forward to representing the country with verve.

Mokoena, who qualified for Beijing at the Yellow Pages South African Senior Championships in Stellenbosch in March, will compete in the long jump.

Sowetan caught up with him at the High Performance Centre (HPC) in Pretoria last week before his departure to the Netherlands where he was due to compete in the IAAF Grand Prix on Saturday (May 24).

Mcelwa Nchabeleng (MN): The Olympics are beckoning and how are your preparations?

Khotso Mokoena (KM): You can see for yourself here (at the HPC) that I'm training hard to prepare myself. I'm aware of the difficulties in the Olympics and that is why I will do everything that I can to prepare myself adequately for the Games.

I have decided to compete in the Grand Prix and also in the four legs of the Golden League before the Olympics to further prepare myself.

MN: Talking about difficulties in the Olympics, what was it like in Athens in 2004?

KM: Very tough and I did not perform well because I was still young and inexperienced. I also suffered from stage fright. But I have since gained a lot of experience and I'm matured and ready to give my competitors stiff competition in Beijing.

MN: Who do you think will give you problems in the Olympics as you will be competing against the best long jumpers in the world like American Dwight Phillips, Irving Saladino of Panama and Saudi Arabian Mohamed Salman Al-Khuwalidi?

KM: These guys are human beings just like me and I can't think why I should not beat them. I beat many of the so-called big guns at the World Championships in Japan where I finished fifth last year. Without bragging, these guys are not in my league because they also do not consider me to be in their league. I'm ready for them.

MN: Being a successful black athlete does [that] not put you under pressure?

KM: Not at all because I see this as a motivation. I always strive for perfection when under pressure.

MN: What really keeps you going?

KM: Firstly, it's God who always gives me strength to do well in the competitions and without Him I wouldn't have succeeded.

But I always put extra effort into whatever I'm doing and my commitment in the sport has also made me succeed.

The support from my teammates, family and people of my country has also motivated me. I feel encouraged when I meet people on the streets and at the malls saying: 'Khotso, we know that you will be competing overseas soon and we wish you all the best. We are prying for you to overcome the challenges out there'. Their kind words always build my morale.

MN: Talking about support, how do you value the support of Athletics South Africa (ASA)?

KM: It has always been great. They are doing everything possible to ensure that we are well prepared for international events.

Their support is not only about organising training camps and preparatory events for us, but they also motivate us by word of mouth.

MN: You have the features of a model and basketballer, why did you choose athletics?

KM: I played football and basketball at school, but I developed an undying love for athletics at primary school. I used to abandon football and basketball matches to watch athletics.

I was later considered for their events and impressed from the word go and never looked back. I can assure you that I would have been a top international model had I pursued this career (laughing).