Elroy Gelant made sure of finishing Olympic marathon: ‘It was difficult to breathe’
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CAPE TOWN - You could almost feel the disappointment in Elroy Gelant’s voice. He had just come through the most punishing of Olympic marathons in the heat and intense humidity of Sapporo, more than 830km north of Tokyo.
He had seen his South African compatriots Stephen Mokoka and Desmond Mokgobu having to step aside during the race, unable to continue as the weather conditions took its toll.
Out of the 106 athletes at the starting line, 30 were unable to finish. And that included leading runners such as Kenya’s Amos Kipruto, Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma, Lelisa Desisa and Shura Kitata and South Korea’s Joohan Oh, all of whom have personal best times of under 2:06:00.
But the 34-year-old Gelant, who hails from Pacaltsdorp near George in the Western Cape, called on his warrior spirit and decided that he had to get to the finish line.
In the first half of the race, though, his ambitions were loftier. Gelant and Mokoka stayed with the top group led by defending champion and world record-holder Eliud Kipchoge through 25km, with Mokoka even going to the front for a brief period.
His green headband eventually came off, while Gelant sported a white cap and just took it step by step. Mokoka stopped around the 30km mark and Mokgobu soon there after, and it was left to Gelant to carry the South African flag to the finish.
Kipchoge, as expected, took the gold in 2:08:38, with Abdi Nageeye of the Netherlands a surprise silver medallist in 2:09:58, with Bashir Abdi of Belgium third in 2:10:00.
Gelant slowly moved down the field as the punishing conditions wore him down, but while he was pipped to a top-30 position in the closing stages, he can be proud of his effort to cross the line in 2:16:43 to claim 34th place – the same number as his age. Maybe it was destiny…
“It was really difficult race, especially taking the conditions into consideration. It was very, very humid, and I think that was the main factor that we actually struggled with,” Gelant said from Sapporo.
“Myself, Stephen and Desmond, we said from the start that our goal is to get a medal for South Africa. And we did try. In the first 25 kilometres, we were up there with the leading guys.
“But just here after 28km, the conditions just started to get a little bit more difficult in terms of the heat – difficult to breathe.
“Desmond and Stephen didn’t finish. I finished in position 34. I’m happy to finish the race… I didn’t want to not finish the marathon at the Olympic Games. But still disappointed because I know what our goals were. We wanted to go for a medal for our country, and we didn’t achieve that.”