19 August 2008
Khotso Mokoena ended Team South Africa’s Olympic medals drought on Monday, winning silver in impressive style in the men’s long jump with a leap of 8.24 metres.
The best that a South African had managed at the Games had been fourth place in the 200 metres freestyle by Jean Basson, which led some to fear that the Rainbow Nation could be held without a single medal for the first time. Mokoena ended those fears.
He opened his challenge with a distance of 7.86 metres as Zimbabwe’s Ngonidzashe Makusha took the first round lead with an excellent jump of 8.19 metres.
Mokoena fouled on his second jump, running right through the pit after he got his steps wrong. It was something that he and others struggled with on the very fast track.
Speaking on SAFM afterwards, Mokoena said he had held back a little because of the pace of the track. Despite this, he reckoned, he could feel he had enough in him for a medal.
In round three, Panama’s Irving Saladino, the world leader in 2008 with an exceptional 8.73 metre leap in May, then took the lead with a mark of 8.21m.
Mokoena cleared the eight-metre barrier with a jump of 8.02m in the same round. It helped him make the top-eight cutoff in fifth place.
Gold medal position
In round four, Mokoena improved upon that distance and leapt into the gold medal position with a superb jump of 8.24 metres. Saladino, though, quickly grabbed it back with a leap of 8.34 metres.
Mokoena fouled in the fifth round and fouled again in sixth round when he had a monster jump, but his 8.24m effort in round four was still good enough for the silver medal. Cuba’s Ibrahim Camejo claimed the bronze medal, with his last jump measuring 8.19 metres.
“Having a silver medal is something that I can cherish for the rest of my life,” said Mokoena. “The guys were looking strong and I knew I was stronger.”
He added that he had come to the Beijing Olympics expecting to win a medal and he had achieved that.
It is not the first time that Mokoena has excelled in a major international event. Back in 2001, he represented South Africa in the high jump at the World Youth Championships, finishing in seventh place.
Two years later, he won a silver medal in the triple jump and a bronze medal in the long jump at the 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja.
In 2004, at the World Junior Championships in Grosseto, Italy, he won the triple jump title.
In 2006, he won a silver medal in the triple jump at the Commonwealth Games. He also finished second in both the long jump and triple jump at the African Championship in Mauritius.
In 2007, competing in the long jump, he was third in the All Africa Games in Algiers, third in the World Athletics finals in Stuttgart, and fifth in the World Championships in Osaka.
Earlier this year, in Valencia, he was crowned the World Indoor long jump champion with a leap of 8.08 metres.
He is the national record holder in the long jump with a distance of 8.39 metres. Mokoena also owns the South African triple jump record of 17.25 metres. His best height in the high jump, achieved in 2001, was 2.10 metres.
Mokoena’s medal has lifted the spirits of Team South Africa, who have performed well in track and field events thus far.
400 metres hurdles
LJ van Zyl, the African and Commonwealth 400 metres hurdles champion, finished fifth in the Olympic final in an excellent time of 48.42 seconds, which was not far off his season’s best.
He was some way off the pace after the first 120 metres but, with his customary strong finish, moved up nicely down the finishing straight.
Angelo Taylor claimed the gold medal and led an American 1-2-3 in a career best 47.25 seconds, which was good for eighth on the all-time list.
Earlier, both Alwyn Myburgh and Pieter de Villiers had made it to the semi-finals, giving South African three men in the final 16, which reflected well on the country’s depth in the event. Only the USA and Jamaica managed to match that feat.
1 500 metres finalist
Juan van Deventer won his heat in 1 500 metres and was then sixth in his semi-final, finishing only 0.7 seconds behind the winner Asbel Kipruto Kiprop, to qualify for the final. He won his earlier heat in a good time of three minutes, 36.32 seconds.
Elizna Naude failed to qualify for the final of the women’s discus after a best throw of 58.75 metres.
Javelin throwers Sunette Viljoen and Justine Robbeson also did not progress beyond the group stages. Viljoen was 17th in Group A qualifying with a below-par distance of 55.58 metres, while Robbeson fared better with sixth place in Group B after a best of 59.63 metres.
Thuso Mpuang exited the 200 metres in the first round after posting a time of 20.87 seconds.
In rowing, Ramon di Clemente and Shaun Keeling missed out on a medal after finishing fifth in the final of the men’s pairs.
Rika Geyser was first in the women’s singles sculls C final.
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