100 World Class South Africans: Josiah Thugwane

2013-07-17 12:00

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Flying the flag

Josiah Thugwane was barely known until he crossed the tape in the men’s marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

The traditional showpiece final event preceding the closing ceremony, runners entered a stadium filled to capacity.

The eyes of the world were on them, and to win here was as good as it gets.

It’s one of SA’s great sporting stories: this victorious outsider who had come from nowhere, showing off the new flag of a proud country just out of apartheid isolation.

Thugwane’s was a real-life rags-to-riches tale, of a teenager from a poor background with a passion for running.

He even quit his job at a mine to focus on training. It paid off when he won the national marathon title in 1993.

Two years later he aced the Honolulu Marathon in Hawaii, and went on to win or place in the top 10 in events in New York, the UK, Japan and Korea.

But his victory on the greatest sporting stage on the planet secured his place in history as the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal.

It also earned him enough money to buy a house for his wife and newborn baby, and a chance to complete his schooling – something he’s said he is even more proud of.

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