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Elana Meyer wants SA running clubs to shift focus to the track

Photo: Getty Images

Elana Meyer walked into the room quietly and sat close to the entrance to listen attentively to proceedings. The young athletes who had sat at the head table for an engagement with the media corps paid her no attention at all as they left the room.

Not that the legendary South African runner was bothered by it at all. Far from it, for Meyer is one of those few who have made peace with their status as "former athletes".

More than anything, the 1992 Olympic 10 000m silver medallist is only too glad to let the current generation have their moments in the limelight, and is actually working hard to make sure that many get to reach the dizzy heights she did in her heyday. Last weekend in Cape Town at the opening race of the SPAR Grand Prix Series, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, Meyer was at pains to divert attention away from herself as the first winner of the popular 10km women’s race.

Granted, she admitted it was "a really special celebration" and she congratulated Spar for "pioneering" and making it "possible for me to be an athlete, as my first personal sponsor". She also was full of praise for the many women who have taken advantage of the Spar Grand Prix Series to not only become competitive, but to also stay in shape. But the lady who is renowned for being at the forefront of the organisation of the IAAF Gold Label Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, as well as her enormously successful Endurocard development programme, was quick to tackle the real issues facing local athletics.

Meyer expressed concern about the seeming South African obsession with ultra marathons, which she feels is robbing the country of the opportunity to compete on the same level with the East Africans on the track and in marathons.

“We have world class ultra marathons and a lot of athletes merely concentrate on races like the Comrades Marathon. But I believe that before they move to the ultra distances, our local clubs should invest more in track athletics and shorter road races.

“In South Africa we must take the track a little more seriously because unfortunately there has been very few opportunities for middle-distance running on the track. To be fast on the road, you need to be fast on the track and that’s where the gap is.

"If you want to run 31 minutes (in a 10km road race) you need to be able to run a fast 1500m, or 5 000m.” Unlike most former athletes, though, Meyer is not all just lip service. She is actively walking (well, running) the talk through her training programmes.

“We had about 100 young girls who are part of our achieve programmes participating in the 5km. I am a strong believer that running and activity enhances your life and the programme gives young girls opportunities to learn through the sport.

"It was fantastic to see the girls singing and enjoying the opportunity to be a much bigger community of women celebrating themselves in the sport they love.” And she is making a huge difference in ensuring that South Africa will have someone like her – a medallist on the track at the Olympics – in future. And she is not doing it for fame or recognition.

The above story is courtesy of IOL.

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