Marathon man Elroy Gelant still pushing for ‘something special’ at Paris Olympics

Elroy Gelant (No 142) hopes to compete at his third Olympics in Paris later this year. Photo: BackpagePix

Elroy Gelant (No 142) hopes to compete at his third Olympics in Paris later this year. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 9, 2024


There is a childhood memory etched on Elroy Gelant’s mind that helps propel him to keep giving his best as an athlete, even now deep into the twilight of what has been a very successful career.

It is a memory of his mom. It is actually a memory that no child should endure. But such was the state of our country back then – and it continues to be for many – that Gelant could not have avoided it.

“I always remember how my mom used to hold me by the hand as a six-year-old and walk the streets of George, knocking at the doors of white people’s houses asking for a job,” he said.

The sight of his mom begging has helped him to become the celebrated athlete and academic he is, Gelant deciding early on in his youth that he would make something of himself to help get his family out of poverty.

“It was very hard opening the fridge then, and there was nothing. But looking back I see it in a positive way. Coming from having nothing put a drive within me to change my circumstances.”

And change them he did, Gelant going on to earn a degree and then getting a job at the North West University in Potchefstroom, on top of being a great South African athlete on the track and on the road.

One of the first things he did was thank his mother with an amazing gift.

“I remember that with my first big pay cheque, I went and bought my mother a house in 2015,” the 37-year-old recalls, the glint in his eyes telling the story of the delight that act gave him.

“For me, I look back at where I come from and I remember my grandmother and my mother’s efforts to get me to where I am. It makes me realise I am running for a much bigger purpose.

“I want to do something special because of the sacrifices that my mom made for me to get to this level. And I want to show the younger ones that there are opportunities to make a difference in your life, irrespective of your background.”

A two-time Olympian, having represented South Africa at Rio 2016 in the 5 000m and in the marathon at the Tokyo 2020 Games – which were held in 2021 with no spectators due to the Covid-19 pandemic – Gelant is likely to make it three times in a row in Paris in August.

Though he has not run the requisite 2:08.10 time in the marathon, Gelant is South Africa’s champion in the 42.195km distance, and should be part of Team South Africa alongside Stephen Mokoka via points.

Gelant won the Athletics South Africa National Marathon Championships during the Durban International Marathon a fortnight ago in a good time of 2:09.32.

But he has to wait a little to see if he will be among those athletes who make it to the Paris Olympics, based on their accumulated points.

He was within the tally at the end of his race in Durban, but with a few more races thereafter, his place is yet to be confirmed.

The uncertainty did not seem to bother him, his delight at the success in Durban knowing no bounds: “I am happy for this. My goal was just to win the national title and this (overall) race win is a bonus for me. I am happy where I am, especially leading to the Olympics with this 2:09 run.

“It would mean a lot for me if I qualified for the Olympics … it would be my third Games.

“I told myself this year I want to qualify for the Olympics, although it was a bit difficult in the (past year) to get myself extra motivation to qualify.

“But when the year started, it was an automatic switch to say, ‘It is (an) Olympic year’. I’ve got the experience and I know what it would take to qualify.”

Gelant will this weekend race the Absa Run Your City Cape Town 10km, the second instalment in the popular five-race series.

He had a great run in the opening race in Gqeberha early last month, when he finished second behind winner Vincent Langat.

He would no doubt love nothing more than to let the Kenyan see his back this time around, like the rest of the field did at the Durban International Marathon.

He has come a long way from seeing his mom’s back as they walked the streets of George in search of a part-time job cleaning up after white people to being a celebrated runner who starts just about every race among the favourites.

But such are the rewards for those who do not let their circumstances put them down, but rather use them as a fuel to drive them to achieving bigger goals and making something out of their lives.

And Gelant has done that in style, the memory of his difficult childhood not haunting him, but rather serving as inspiration.