CAPE TOWN – Ken McArthur and Josia Thugwane, polar opposites of the world’s cultural and physical divide, are forever united in a remarkable statistic of Olympic history - both earned Olympic marathon gold medals for South Africa.
And with less than a year to the Tokyo Games and team selection yet to be finalised, could Sunday’s Cape Town Marathon unearth SA’s third champion?
McArthur, born in 1881 in County Atrim in Ireland before moving to Johannesburg at 20, was 1.88m tall and well-built, tipping the scales at a racing weight of 77kg. Thugwane, born of Ndebele heritage in the Mpumalanga farming town of Bethal in 1971, eleven years after McArthur died, was a mere 1.58m tall and was little more than half of McArthur’s weight at 45kg at his racing best.
McArthur took gold at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, while Thugwane raced to victory in the Atlanta Games in 1996. McArthur cut his running teeth competing against the local train in Ireland while working as a postman, before honing his athletic ability in the SA police force, while Thugwane found encouragement to develop his talent at the Koornfontein coal mine in the province of his birth.
The two SA athletes were largely unheralded as they lined up at the start of their respective Olympic marathons. Although McArthur arrived in Sweden unbeaten in three marathon races, the fact that these were all in SA, a far-off country, meant far less than the running CVs of the favoured Americans Clarence DeMar and Mike Ryan.