The South African team for the marathon to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was finalised in March of that year and as documented last week comprised Xolile Yawa, Gert Thys and Josia Thugwane with Lawrence Peu as the travelling reserve.
Elana Meyer was selected for the women’s marathon as the only one to qualify within the stipulated time frame. Selecting Colleen de Reuck would have bolstered the team dynamic, but the rules of selection precluded her as she had not qualified in the period under review, despite possessing all the qualities and already having proved to be a world class marathoner. De Reuck was selected instead for the 10000m on the track.
The men travelled to Albuquerque some four weeks ahead of the departing South African team as a whole, supported by SASCOC.
As with any team regardless of size there would be dynamics at play with different personal coaches, needs, agents, team management and of course the national interest.
The late Jacques Malan was appointed to set up the initial camp through his international agent contacts. At the time of selection he was an international agent liaison for both Thys and Peu. Whilst in camp Malan kept in touch with the management structure back in South Africa and together they were able to iron out any issues encountered.
Albuquerque was the chosen venue given the advantage it offers for high altitude training. The other option being Boulder where De Reuck has since lived. Numerous other international teams or individual runners were also stationed in the same New Mexican desert town, which experiences 310 days of sunshine per annum.
When the balance of the SA team arrived they were transported initially to La Grange, Georgia and accommodated at La Grange College. Also there was the Ethiopian team with their great athletes inclusive of perhaps the greatest of all time Haile Gebrselassie, the meeting of whom inspired most. There were still two weeks to go to the opening ceremony, by which time the team would be transported to the Olympic Village in Atlanta.
The marathon team management travelled to the men’s team in Albuquerque and spent about 10 days with the team, overseeing the final build up to the games.
The athletes spent their days, training, eating, sleeping watching some television and reading. The facilities were good, with comfortable accommodation, inclusive of a small private gym, a track was close to the athletes as well as a beautiful mountain hike on the outskirts of the city, green on the living side and wide open desert upon cresting the summit.
Real life cowboys would be encountered on the longer training runs and American country life eagerly embraced.
When the time came management returned to Atlanta to meet Meyer at the airport and a few days later the men’s team came down so as to attend the opening ceremony, something that was felt absolutely necessary so that the team could experience the feel of the games, after many weeks in isolation from the build up and excitement down in the village.
The women’s marathon was just a week after the ceremony, but the men would have another week thereafter to prepare and it was agreed that they return to Atlanta, from altitude, the day before the race.
Drama awaited and would follow in those two weeks.