Ex-champ urges athletes to work hard

Thugwane tips Mokoka for Olympics podium

Stephen Mokoka to represent SA in Tokyo Olympics
Stephen Mokoka to represent SA in Tokyo Olympics
Image: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

SA marathon icon Josia Thugwane backs long distance sensation Stephen Mokoka to shine at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.  

Thugwane is the first South African marathoner to win an Olympic gold medal after winning the 42km event at the 1996 Atlanta Olympiad. The Mpumalanga-born athlete expressed a desire to see another SA marathoner finish on the podium at the Olympics while he is still alive. He hopes that dream comes true via Mokoka, an athlete he feels has the heart to go all the way. Mokoka, Elroy Gelant, and Desmond Mokgobu will represent SA's marathon team at the Games.

Thugwane, 49, sees a reflection of himself in Mokoka, who has won the Shangai Marathon four times. Mokoka finished fifth at the 2019 IAAF world championships in Doha, Qatar.

"My message to Mokoka is that he must start training now and prepare himself well for the marathon. He is currently the best long distance runner in the country, and I believe in him. I would like to see a runner who can finish on the podium, and Mokoka has the best chance of achieving that," said Thugwane.

Thugwane trains aspiring athletes during his spare time, but he says that athletics is no longer the same in SA.

"Companies no longer invest in runners. During my time, companies assisted runners with resources. But today's athletes are on their own. Hard work alone is not enough to win an Olympic medal."

He encouraged Mokoka and other runners not to lose hope and keep on working hard.

"They have a chance to do well at the Olympics. They must not lose hope and keep working hard. Mokoka is pushing, and he has a great coach in Michael Seme. I suggest that a training camp somewhere in Lesotho or Ethiopia will benefit our marathon team. They need all the support they can get from Athletics South Africa," Thugwane told Sowetan yesterday.

He also urged them to follow the Covid-19 regulations when they train and to sanitise, and to wear their masks all the time.  

The retired star is brand ambassador for Bridgestone and very grateful for the monthly retainer he receives from the tyre company, saying it is "not easy being a legend in this country".

"Maybe the country will thank me when I am dead, with a big funeral. But I am struggling to make ends meet. I want to support my family, but it is not easy."     

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