Mokoena still a medal hope in London

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Khotso_Mokoena2 Wessel Oosthuizen Khotso Mokoena.

For an athlete who carried the entire South African team in Beijing four years ago, Khotso Mokoena has managed to keep a remarkably low profile in the build-up to the London Games.

Mokoena, one of the country's most decorated athletes over the last 10 years, has hovered under the radar for two seasons after returning from injury at the beginning of 2011.

His withdrawal from the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, after struggling to shake off a leg strain, caused tension with the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), which insisted he had been fit and able to compete.

In February 2011, when Sascoc released the 34-members of its Operation Excellence (Opex) squad, to receive funding in their preparation for the London Games, Mokoena's name was not on the list.

He closed out a sedate 2011 season with a poor performance at the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, where he failed to reach the long jump final.

His cautious approach continued in 2012, and after a couple of below-par performances in Europe, Mokoena again withdrew from a major event when he pulled out of South Africa's World Indoor Championships team in March, in order to focus on the London Games.

“We are taking it gradually and we only want to start doing our thing by July,” Mokoena's coach, Hansie Coetzee, assured at the time.

Since making his outdoor season debut in April, Mokoena has been on a steady incline, aiming to reach his peak in London.

His best this year, a jump of 8.29m in Pretoria, was his furthest effort since 2009, placing him fourth in the world this season.

He again looked flat, though, in his latest performance, producing a relatively poor leap of 7.99m to finish sixth at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Madrid, Spain, on Saturday night.

With global leader Greg Rutherford finishing a distant eighth in Madrid, however, the men's long jump in London looks to be wide open.

Mokoena might not have hit his straps yet ahead of the Games, but he has certainly been consistent.

He is one of only two men to have cleared eight metres on five occasions this season – the other is Rutherford – and Mokoena, anywhere near his best, will be in contention in the English capital.

At 27, he has a superb championship record.

Versatile in his youth, Mokoena was fifth in the high jump final at the 2001 World Youth Championships in Debrecen, and three years later he won gold in the triple jump and silver in the long jump at the World Junior Championships in Grosseto.

He secured the world indoor title in Valencia in 2008, and two years later, in Doha, he bagged silver.

Competing in his third Olympic Games, Mokoena feels the weight of expectation on him to repeat his medal-winning performance from Beijing.

“I can feel the pressure, especially after I won a medal in 2008,” he said in April, before setting the first of two required qualifying marks.

“It is not a negative pressure. That pressure just tells me, 'hey boet, you have to work harder every day'.

“I feel much better – way, way better, I think 100 percent better than I did in 2008.”

Mokoena's lone silver medal was all the SA team had to show for their disappointing campaign in Beijing four years ago.

If the SA team is going to return from London with anything near Sascoc's lofty goal of 12 medals, they'll be banking on him to shine again. – Sapa


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