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by Michelle Carnegie
15 July 2019

She’s a South African sporting great, Olympic medallist and probably one of the nicest sporting celebrities you will ever come across. Elana Van Zyl Meyer is also the driving force behind developing the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon into not only a world class event, but also into a major marathon, joining the likes of London, Berlin, New York, Boston, Chicago and Tokyo. 

Elana is currently on a countrywide promotion of the Cape Town Marathon, and recently stopped over at the K-Way Jeppe Athletics Club in Bedfordview to share her inspirational running journey of how she transformed from an Albertinia school girl to a world class athlete, and now also a key player in the success of the Cape Town Marathon.

Growing up
Elana grew up as one of four children in Albertinia in the Southern Cape. Few people know that she survived a near fatal accident when her grandfather accidently drove over her head when she was only two years old. As young as she was the incident left a lasting impression on her outlook on life, and today she sees life as a miracle. “I take the most out of life every day,” says Elana.
As a little girls she was inspired to become a gymnast just like Romanian five-time Olympic gold medallist Nadia Comaneci. “Sadly, that dream peaked in our tv-room,” jokes Elana.

What she did not know then, was that her magnificent running career would shortly start at a ‘fun run’ organised by the school she attended. She did so well at the fun run and was persuaded to enter the Voet van Afrika race in Bredasdorp. “I paid my R5 entry fee and did not worry about much. However, I was 13 years old and all I wanted was a trendy sweatband to wear around my head. My parents bought me one, but in all the excitement of the race I actually forgot to wear it around my head. I actually finished the race with the sweatband still hanging around my neck,” says Elana. Though she won the half marathon, she was in awe of the runners who ran the marathon. “I then thought one day when I am a big girl, I would run a marathon”.

Shortly after Meyer started High School in Robertson she got a running coach, who guided her towards working on her speed in track and field as well as cross-country before focussing on distance. “It was only in Matric that I ran the Knysna Half Marathon,” says Elana. 

International Competition
As her running career progressed she met world qualifying standards, but could not compete internationally due to South Africa’s sporting isolation. “I realised I needed to raise the bar and started measuring myself against international athletes, though only on paper.”

When South Africa’s period of isolation ended in the early 1990s, Elana was the country’s best hope for a gold medal at the1992 Barcelona Olympics. She could not believe her dream to compete at an Olympics was coming true. “It was surreal walking in the Olympic village.” The South African team was obviously inexperienced as it was the first time in 32 years that the country was allowed to participate. “So, when former president Nelson Mandela arrived to greet us he brought light and hope to the team. It was also the start of a very special relationship between the two of us,” says Elana.

Unforgettable Race
The entire nation was behind SA’s golden girl and glued to their TV-sets when she set off in then 10 000m event, which consisted of 25 laps around the track. “It was a tough race. With 10 laps to go I made a break and dropped the whole field. But then the 20-year-old Ethiopian Derartu Tulu became a shadow. She overtook me and went on to run a 67-second final lap and claimed gold. Though I came second it felt like I won gold.” 

Most people today still remember the iconic image of Meyer and Tulu running side by side with their respective flags in a victory lap. “The reception was incredible when I returned back to South Africa. Even today some people still stop me and tell me exactly where they were when that race was run.” 

Another 13 years on the international circuit followed, during which Elana broke five world records and won both a world cup and the world half marathon titles. Between 1992, when she exploded onto the international scene, and 2005, when she retired, Elana performed consistently well on the world stage and was a feared and respected competitor wherever she competed. At the age of 35, Elana broke the South African national 10km record in Budapest and continued to race successfully until her retirement three years later.
Giving back
Elana is known to give back hugely to the sport she loves so much. She is an excellent coach and mentor to many,amotivational speaker and one of the founding directors of ENDUROCAD, Africa’s first Academy dedicated to endurance sports.
One of her main roles currently is as ambassador of the Cape Town Marathon, an event which has made incredible progress since its relaunch in 2014. In 2018 it was again awarded Gold Label status by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Later that year it obtained the coveted Sports Industry 2018 Mass Participation Event of the year. It was also named as an official qualifier for the inaugural Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Rankings.
The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon has enjoyed the attention of both local and international elite athletes with Stephen Mokoka, South Africa’s top marathon runner, taking the top honours in a record time of 2:08:31 in 2018. 
Cape Town Challenge
Elana has run marathons all over the world, including London, Boston, Tokyo and New York. In fact, she ran a 2:25 debut marathon in Boston. “People always ask me what the best international marathon is. Boston has such great history, New York is phenomenal with 5-10 deep rows of spectators and 120 bands along the route while London is an absolute showcase of the city and their incredible fundraising efforts. But I believe we can create something just as iconic at the Cape Town Marathon. After all, the best marathon runners come from Africa,” says Elana.
She explains that Cape Town is not only a fast and flat course suited to first time marathon runners, elites and those gunning for PB’s, but the beauty of the course is also breath taking. The first 7-8km of the run is run along the beach front before runners get to run in the shade of Table Mountain and alongside other iconic landmarks. The start at the V&A Waterfront is wide enough to accommodate 11 000 plus runners. It is a must run marathon, says Elana.
This year’s weekend-long running festival begins on Saturday 14th September 2019 with two Peace Trail Runs (22km and 12km) and a 5km PEACE Run. This is followed by a 10km Peace Run and the classic 42.2km City Marathon which both take place on Sunday 15th September 2019.
Africa is my home, this is my race. It’s Cape Town, must run it! TO ENTER go to

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