‘Crocodile’ learns to fly

2008-08-18 00:00

Team South Africa let their ‘crocodile’ loose in Beijing’s Bird Nest last night and he came away with a silver medal!

With one leap of faith, Khotso Mokoena, sporting his lucky open-fingered glove, planted himself 8.24 metres from the long jump takeoff board to secure the Olympic silver medal.

“The glove has some crocodile skin on the underside and my name means crocodile so I wear it when I jump” said the tall man from Potchefstroom, who turned South African fortunes at the Olympic Games.

Mokoena opened his account with a 7.86m jump, and although disappointing in distance, it put him on the board where many in the first round had struggled to get their run-up timing in rhythm.

The fast track at Beijing’s Bird Nest stadium saw all but two athletes have at least one over-stepping of the takeoff board, resulting in lower than expected distances.

Zimbabwe’s Ngonidzashe Makusha’s opening 8.19 gave him the lead, which lasted until Panama’s Irving Saladino’s third round 8.21.

Mokeona fouled his second trial, running right through the pit “There was three no jumps because I was coming too fast with the track. The track is very fast — with the second jump I felt I was going to hurt myself, so I just ran through. With the third jump I just had to do it,” said Mokoena, who got sufficient momentum behind the third trial to reach 8.02 metres, which was sufficient to place him in the top five before the cut to the final eight.

The change to jumping order saw the 23-year-old hit the board squarely within minimal distance of the plasticine, launching him out to 8.24 metres to take the lead. But his gold medal position was short-lived as the world champion’s fourth trial put the marker out another 10 centimetres to reclaim the gold. Both Mokoena and Saladino fouled their remaining two trials .

Cuban Ibrahim Camejo initiated his progress to the final eight with a second trial of 8.09, putting him behind the Zimbabwean, but a final jump of 8.20 gave him bronze.

“I came to the games hoping to get into the finals — and I went into the finals hoping to get any medal, whether it’s a bronze, silver or gold; I just wanted to do well and the fact that God blessed me with the silver — I’m very happy,” said a beaming Mokoena, who believes there are still members of Team South Africa that are going to do well in the Games.

“It means a lot to me that there are people still supporting us back home even though Team SA didn’t start so well – people were still calling us, telling me to go all out; we just had to keep our head up high and we would do well”

The Heidelberg born athlete had not looked as pleased with his jumps during the competition even when he put himself into the lead. “There was something left in me and it didn’t come out tonight; it shows me there is still some reserve in the tank … I think anything over 8.39 is possible and I was hoping for a new PB today, that could have got a gold medal, but it didn’t happen [tonight] and I just want to thank the Lord that I got a medal. It’s something for me to cherish for the rest of my life,” said Mokoena, who has regenerated the spirit of Team SA.

“We are very proud of his performance and achievement. Khotso has proved that indeed he is one of the best in the world. He has done Team SA and the country proud by putting us on the medal table” said Hajera Kajee, the chef de Mission .

“It’s a win for Khotso, a win for athletics and a win for South Africa,” said Ruben Ramolefi in celebrating Mokoena’s silver medal after his own disappointment in the 3 000m steeplechase final. “I would just like south Africa to have more faith in our team and be more positive about us. We have had six athletes compete so far and four have made the finals, and now we have a silver medal. It’s time that the potential of the team is recognised.”

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