Oldknow chases an Olympic dream as second- fastest SA woman in the marathon

CIAN Oldknow is the second-fastest South African woman over the marathon distance. | ROGAN WARD/Hollywood Athletics Club

CIAN Oldknow is the second-fastest South African woman over the marathon distance. | ROGAN WARD/Hollywood Athletics Club

Published Feb 25, 2024



“I DID IT. 2:25:08 for the Seville Marathon. Olympic qualifying time and second fastest SA lady ever.”

Cian Oldknow’s delight knew no bounds last Sunday after she completed only her second standard marathon in such a quick time that she was just a minute and five seconds slower than Gerda Steyn’s national record.

And the Hollywood Athletic Club starlet took to her social media to share her excitement.

“Sill on cloud 9,” she posted on X.

How she would love to stay there, her time currently guaranteeing her a spot in South Africa’s three-woman team for the marathon at the Paris Olympics taking place later this year.

But with the likes of her teammate Irvette Van Zyl and US-based Domique Scott chasing the Olympic dream, the 27-year-old knows nothing is cast in stone just yet.

“I am so happy to have secured a ticket to the Olympics, although qualification can still happen for the other ladies who are still trying to, but we will do what need to do (to ensure we go),” she told Independent Media.

The risk of having the proverbial Olympic rug pulled from under her Adidas-adorned feet did not, however, dampen Oldknow’s spirits as she gleefully celebrated her magnificent achievement.

“My race experience was amazing,” she chimed. “Everything went according to plan. I could not have asked for a better experience out there. (You know) the marathon can be touch-and-go because it is such a long race. Anything can go wrong and I am so grateful that it went according to plan.”

Oldknow and her coach, George Bradley, had trained for her to achieve the requisite 2:26:50 to be in line for a place in the Olympic team and, having clocked a 2:39 training run at the Johnson’s Crane Marathon in Benoni at the end of last month, she went to Spain confident of achieving her objective.

“I really paced my race well. The plan was to run at 3:26 (minutes per kilometre) and I managed to do just that. I am so happy with my pacing, which is one of my big strengths.”

Renowned more for her track (5 000m and 10 000m) and cross-country exploits though lately she has shone in the half-marathon, Oldknow’s great run would have caught most running enthusiasts by surprise.

But the athlete and her coach have been working towards this for a while: “I’ve long said to my mom ‘I really want to go to the Olympics’ and we knew I could get it. And I’d worked really, really hard in the last few years to get to this.

“Coach Bradley has really helped put the pieces together for me to get to where I am today. I am blessed to have a great coach who listens to me, understands my body.

“George puts in a lot of attention to detail too. And I believe my success comes from having a great relationship with my coach. I trust him and I trust that he is doing it all for my good.”

In the last year, Oldknow has represented the country at the World Cross-Country Championships as well as the World Half-Marathon and she will be wearing Mzansi’s green and gold at the All Africa Games in Accra, Ghana, next month, looking to bring back gold.

Nothing, though, excites her more than the prospects of lining up at the start of the marathon in Paris on the greatest sporting stage of them all – the Olympics.

“It is such an amazing feeling to know that I could represent South Africa at the Olympics. As an athlete I am driven by the belief that I have the potential to be the best athlete out there.

“I try to push my limits as far as I can and challenge myself on how I can get better. If I reach a limit, I try to see how far I can go past that. I am always trying to improve my time, trying to get better, accomplishing and running a great race and being happy at the end.”

And she was happy at the end of Sunday’s race in Seville all right!

“I thoroughly enjoyed it. My first international marathon in such a beautiful place turned out to be such a beautiful race. The crowd was amazing, they were so vibrant,” she said.

“There were just people to ‘run’ with the whole way and, though the last few kilometres were a bit lonely because people were a bit stretched out, the crowd on the whole route was amazing.

“And at the finish it was such a surreal experience, to have so many photographers and many athletes lying there tired but very excited at having attained Olympic qualification. I also stopped and sat down to take it all in. It was beautiful.”

It got more beautiful a little later when she discovered just how fast she had ran.

“I only found out about being the second-fastest South African lady in the marathon when I saw my mom there (in Seville) supporting me. It made the achievement all the more amazing.”

It will be even more amazing if Oldknow can hold on to her spot in the marathon team and race at the Olympics in Paris.

“I wouldn’t have gotten here without the great support from many people around me, my coach, my mom, my boyfriend and our families and friends as well as my team Hollywood Athletics Club, my sponsors Adidas and supplements suppliers Morten.

“My teammate Irvette van Zyl has been amazing because she has given me a lot of advice and it has been great.”

Ironically, in running the time she did, Oldknow usurped Van Zyl in the pecking order for the Olympics.

“Still feels all a bit surreal, and soaking it all in,” she said.