khotso does it!

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

BEIJING - He looked up to the sky with his fist clenched and punched the air in delight as he gave South African its first medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics last night.

That was Khotso Mokoena who won the silver medal in the long jump at the imposing National Stadium.

His silver medal triumph, a feat that seems to be a fantasy to many South African athletes here, was understandably hailed by many of his countrymen at the stadium.

It lifted some of the gloom that was hanging over Team South Africa and SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee following the failure by our athletes to win any medal since the Games started on August 8.

This put Mokoena under tremendous pressure, but his zeal to surmount what looked like insurmountable obstacles pulled him through.

The Ratanda-born athlete also achieved this without a coach.

Mokoena parted company with Angus Pohl in July after the coach accused him of having a bad attitude. His agent, Jukka Harkonen, consistently gave him instructions last night.

"I came here focused because I did not want the issue of the coach to sway my attention in the Olympics," Mokoena said.

"Pressure was on us to win medals and I'm proud that I got one for my country.

"I thank the support that I got from all quarters and I will work hard for the 2012 London Olympics."

On his performance he said: "My first jumps weren't long enough so I had to keep fighting and fighting. I was taking too long. It is always good to hold back instead of just going for it."

At one point he failed to jump after he overstepped, but that did not demoralise him.

His 8,24m jump in the fourth attempt earned him the medal. He recorded 7,86m in his first jump and 8,02m in the second.

He finished 10 centimetres behind gold medallist Irvin Saladino of Panama.

Cuban Ibrahim Camejo came third after registering 8,20m in his sixth attempt.

Mokoena qualified for the final with a jump of 8,14m on Saturday.

Louis "LJ" van Zyl, who was also a medal hopeful last night, finished fifth in the 400m hurdles.

Reuben Ramolefi came second from last in the final of the 300m hurdles and blamed a bad game plan for his loss.

Thuso Mpuang failed to make it into the final of the 200m after coming seventh in his heat on 21:04.

As expected, Jamaica's Usain Bolt qualified for the final of the 200m in his heat as he literally strolled to the first position in 20:29 seconds.

There was little hype after his triumph as this was just the qualifying event.