4 July 2012
Only one South African athlete will travel to the London Olympic Games as a medal winner from four years ago in Beijing. That man is long jumper Khotso Mokoena.
He booked his spot at the London Olympics by meeting the stringent South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee standard set for qualification of 8.20 metres, a distance that Mokoena had to leap at home and in international competition.
He made a jump of 8.29 metres in April in Pretoria, but it was only on 31 May that he managed a distance of 8.20 metres in Rome to secure his place in the South African Olympic team.
Nonetheless, Mokoena’s 8.29m in Pretoria is the sixth best distance in the world this year and, again, only six athletes have managed a distance of 8.20m at least twice.
A similar sort of distance could well put the South African star in a medal winning position in London. In Beijing, he won silver with a leap of 8.24m, while Irving Saladino claimed gold with a best of 8.34m.
A high jumper
The strange thing, considering that Mokoena is in the running to add another Olympic medal to his silver medal of four years ago, is that he began his international career not as a long jumper, but as a high jumper!
In fact, in 2001, at the World Youth Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, he finished fifth in the high jump with a height of 2.10 metres.
While at Nigel High School, a teacher, Elna de Beer, discovered Mokoena’s talent for long jump and the following year he began his long international career in the event.
In 2002, at the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, he finished twelfth with a best of 7.08m in the final after leaping 7.47m in qualifying.
Later that year, he took up the triple jump and after only five days of training recorded a national youth and junior record of 16.03 metres.
His achievements in 2003 included bronze medals in the long jump at the Afro-Asian and All Africa Games, as well as a second in the triple jump at the All Africa Games and third in the same event at the Afro-Asian Games.
World junior champion
The following year, at Grosseto in Italy, he won the triple jump at the World Junior Championships and placed second in the long jump. His winning triple jump was 16.77m, while his long jump measured 8.09 metres, good for a national junior record, and only two centimetres behind the winning distance.
He contested the triple jump at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but, not yet an adult, he failed to make it to the final.
In April of 2005, he set a national record in the triple jump in Durban that still stands to this day of 17.25 metres. In August, he topped the qualifying distances in the long jump at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland, but failed to win a medal in the finals.
It was a good year, however, with Mokoena bettering the eight-metre mark nine times, including a leap of 8.37 metres at the national university championships.
2006 proved to be a successful year for Mokoena. He placed fifth in the long jump at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow. In Manchester, at the Commonwealth Games, he ended fourth in the long jump and won a silver medal in the triple jump with a distance of 16.95.
Two silver medals
At the African Championships in Mauritius, Mokoena picked up two silver medals after leaping 8.45m in the long jump and 16.67 in the triple jump.
He also set a South African record of 8.39 metres in the long jump while competing in Finland.
In 2007, after changing his technique, Mokoena decided to focus on the long jump and proved to be a consistent performer on the world stage in the biggest of competitions.
His results included a third place at the All Africa Games in Algiers, fifth place in the World Championships in Osaka, where he had topped his group in qualifying, and third in the World Athletics Finals in Stuttgart.
World indoor champion
In March 2008, he captured gold at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain. After topping qualifying, Mokoena recorded a best distance of 8.08m, and nothing less than 8.01m, to claim the title.
In August, he finished second at the Olympic Games.
In July 2009, Mokoena set an African record with a career best leap of 8.50 metres in Madrid. In Berlin, in August, he picked up silver at the World Athletics Championships with a leap of 8.47 metres. Then, in September, he finished third in the World Athletics Finals in Thessaloniki, Greece.
He enjoyed another good result at the World Indoor Championships in 2010, when he won silver with another leap of 8.08m. He was crowned African champion in Nairobi, with a best jump of 8.23 metres.
He surprisingly missed out on qualifying for the final of the 2011 World Athletics Championships, although he would have done so with just two centimetres added to his distance.
At 28 years of age, Mokoena is, however, a proven medal challenger on the athletics world’s biggest stages, and it would not be surprising to see him in the running for another Olympic medal in London.
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