Tokyo Olympics

SA's Gillian Sanders says young women can have it all as she prepares for Olympic swansong

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South African triathlete Gillian Sanders
South African triathlete Gillian Sanders
Nobuo Yano/Getty Images
  • South African triathlete Gillian Sanders hopes to end her third and final Olympics with a bang in Tokyo.
  • Sanders, a qualified lawyer, says it was worth it to put her modest career on hold to pursue triathlon.
  • The 39-year-old is excited to get her Olympic campaign under way as she looks to inspire young women.

South African triathlete Gillian Sanders hopes to inspire young women as the qualified lawyer will compete in her third and final Olympic Games.

The 39-year-old has been a stalwart for her country since competing in her first Olympics at the 2012 London Games.

Sanders' best Olympic finish came in London, where she finished 19th in the women's triathlon. She then went on to finish 23rd at the 2016 Rio Games.

However, when the 2020 Games was rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sanders thought her swansong Olympic dream was slipping away.

"I don't think at one point we believed we would be here, so it's really awesome that it's actually going ahead," said Sanders.

"We waited five years and I'm really excited about that."

Sanders is looking to improve her personal Olympic best in Tokyo as she competes in the women's triathlon on Monday SA time at 23:30.

"It will be my last one as well so I'm just hoping to go out with a bang, but I just feel very privileged to be here in the first place."

Sanders studied law at Stellenbosch University and then moved to London to work at a law firm.

In her late 20s, Sanders decided to focus on her triathlon career and has since sealed three African Championship titles.

Sanders acknowledges that there's "no one route" but says that sacrificing her work life for sport was worth it.

"It's a really tough one, it's a risk to take but I think the risk definitely pays off - it's all worth it," said Saunders.

"I took a bit of a unique route, I did my law degree, I practiced as a lawyer and I only went professional when I was 28 or 29.

"So to the young women out there, the message is that there's no one route, you can get your degree, enjoy a bit of your social life at university and then get into your triathlon at a later stage," she said.

"I think there's three of us that are 38 or 39. Nicola Spirig is an example of mixing motherhood with being an athlete. I'd rather do one or the other, which I'll do after this."

Sanders will also compete in the triathlon mixed relay, which is scheduled to get under way on 31 July.

*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympics for Sport24.

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