Although she had a long and successful career both before and after South Africa’s return to the international sporting stage, most people remember Elana Meyer for her historic silver medal in the 10 000 metres event at the 1992 Summer Olympics.
Even then they don’t necessarily remember the 25 laps she ran around the track, but rather the symbolic victory lap alongside the winner, Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu. Together, they had made history: Tulu was the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal while Elana was the first South African to win an individual medal after South Africa’s return to the Olympic family.
Elana had waited for this opportunity for many years …
Her love affair with running started during her primary school years in Albertinia.
“Running gave me a sense of ownership and adventure. I could determine where, how far and how fast I wanted to go,” she recalls. She won her first 21 km race at the age of 13 and later earned Junior Springbok colours for athletics.
As a member of the Maties Athletics Club, Elana used international standards and times as a benchmark for setting her own running goals. She attained Olympic qualifying times in both 1984 and 1988 and continued dreaming of the day that she would be allowed to compete internationally. During this time, she also pursued her goal of completing university studies. She obtained her BCom and BCom (Hons) degrees as well as her Higher Education Diploma at Stellenbosch University.
A glimmer of hope that South Africa’s isolation might soon be a thing of the past appeared on the horizon in 1989 and South African sportspeople, Elana included, began an emotional rollercoaster journey that culminated in their participation in the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992.
When she finally competed in the final of the 10 000m event, it was more than just a race. It was a celebration.
“The silver felt like gold. It had been such an emotional journey. I was happy, relieved, grateful,” she remembers.
Another 13 years on the international circuit followed, during which Elana broke five world records and won both a world cup and world half marathon title. She retired in 2005.
Her athletics career had brought her many amazing opportunities and she decided it was time to give back. For the first seven years after her retirement, she was the CEO of the JAG Foundation, using sport as a tool for social change.
Currrently, she is co-founder of the distance running and endurance sports academy Endurocad, which aims to identify, nurture, train and celebrate the success of young talented distance runners. It focuses on the holistic development of athletes, including skills and enterprise development (education) and individual and personal development (life skills).
“When you put structure in place, talent pops up like popcorn,” she says.
She is also an ambassador of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, which she regards as an ideal opportunity to inspire South Africa’s young, talented long-distance runners to achieve greatness.
- By Pia Nänny -