CAPE TOWN - GERDA Steyn said participating in the Olympic marathon was a “life-changing experience”, and that she was happy with her 15th-placed finish in hot and humid conditions in Sapporo yesterday.
The 31-year-old had trained in the French Alps and Dubai in the build-up to the Tokyo Games, and all her efforts paid off as she kept in touch with the leaders throughout the event to clock a time of 2 hours 32 minutes and 10 seconds (2:32:10).
That was less than five minutes behind Kenyan gold medallist Peres Jepchirchir, who put in a late kick with about 2km to go to outlast compatriot and world record-holder Brigid Kosgei in a time of 2:27:20, with the latter second in 2:27:36.
American Molly Seidel claimed the bronze medal with a time of 2:27:46.
Temperatures in the upper 20s and humidity levels of over 70 percent made it tough for the runners, even though the scheduled start was brought forward by an hour to 6am Japanese time.
Steyn slowly but surely worked her way up the field, having gone through the 20km mark in 21st position in 1:11:41, to 19th after 25km and 17th by the 35km point. She was 14th at the 40km, but ended in 15th, with quick times not possible in the draining conditions.
“15th at the #Tokyo2020 Marathon and super proud to represent @TeamSA2020 for the first time!! I can finally say I’M AN OLYMPIAN!! Thank you everyone for the amazing support!! I promise to work hard and be back for #Paris2024!” Steyn said on Twitter afterwards.
“I can only say that I am humbled and I hope that you enjoyed the race!! I am really happy with the results finishing 15th today, and I can’t wait to get celebrating with all of you who supported me and cheered me on from afar.
“It was a life changing experience, regardless how tough it was, and I have never had so much support and encouragement like I had lining up for this race and so I take back my words because... WE are an Olympian hehehe!
The tricky conditions made life tough for the other South African runner, Irvette van Zyl, who withdrew from the race after the halfway mark.
Van Zyl was unable to complete the London 2012 marathon due to an injury, and did not make it to the start line at Rio 2016 because of an injury as well.
“To put in short I am disappointed. My body failed me. My mind and heart was ready. But my body had a complete shut down. Don’t know why or what happened. I failed and failed miserable,” she said on Instagram yesterday.
”I tried staying comfortable and in control, just couldn’t get my rhythm and I started cramping so bad at 19km and took a forced nap at around 23km and ended up in the medical tent.
”I am sore, my heart is broken and I have so many unanswered questions. To Why? Why? How much can one athlete endure. I am broken. I am leaving Sapporo with a heavy heart and in tears.
The third South African involved in athletics yesterday, Dominique Scott-Efurd, finished in 20th position in the 10 000m final in a time of 32:14.05.
Netherlands star Sifan Hassan claimed her third medal in Tokyo by winning in 29:55.32, to add to her 5 000m gold and 1 500m bronze.
Kalkidan Gezahegne of Bahrain bagged the silver in 29:56.18, with Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia taking the bronze in 30:01.72.