BARCELONA, 27 September 2022 — Thirty years after their epic 10,000m, and the highly symbolic victory lap, Derartu Tulu — the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal — and Elana Meyer — who won the first medal for South African when they were re-admitted to the Olympic Games in 1992 after a ban lasting 32 years — met again today in Barcelona.
For Derartu, it was the first time back in Barcelona, so it was especially emotional, and her excitement when returning to the Olympic Stadium was palpable, with a little cry of joy as she embraced Elana and they made their entrance together.
Being the first female black African athlete to win a gold medal was very important, and the most important aspect after the race was friendship. In Ethiopia, every time people mention the Barcelona 1992 final, they also mention Elana — it was a symbol of unity.
The embrace after the race and the victory lap together was a spontaneous gesture. I was always taught to persevere in life and came to give my best effort. That time I did not win, I was beaten by the better athlete on that day, but for me being able to participate and win a medal was already a great achievement.
Now looking back I realize the race was not 25 laps – it was the 26th lap that really had an impact.
Both Derartu and Elana are still very much involved in athletics. Derartu is the President of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation, which enjoyed exceptional results this year at both the Indoor and Outdoor World Championships.
After retiring I shared my experience with many athletes Even if my own children do not run, I’ve inspired many Ethiopian women to be athletes, Olympians and World champions.
Having been an elite athlete myself allows me to find the right words to speak to and motivate the current athletes.
Elana is an ambassador for the Cape Town Marathon – now a candidate to become the seventh World Marathon Major – and has founded her own endurance academy, Endurocad.
Endurocad aims to utilise sport and its values for development, not only in sport but also for personal development and academic development.
I feel my role in life is to influence in a positive way.
Elana also reflected on the role of Nelson Mandela
South African athletes were informed just three months before the Games that they we would be able to able to compete at the 1992 Olympics so many athletes were not prepared. Mandela came to visit us at the Athletes’ Village and he inspired us — you could feel the energy.
And when I set the Half Marathon World Record in Japan, Nelson Mandela called me. He was an exceptional human being.
Elana Meyer donated to the Museu Olimpic Joan Antoni Samaranch the neutral flag with which she ran the legendary that “26th lap”, which was to be the defining moment of the Barcelona 1992 Games.
Both athletes signed the flag, and Elana wrote on it:
The symbol of the power of the values of the Olympics!
Friendships, Peace, Perseverance
Those moments of deep friendship, of building bridges and spontaneous connection through sport were on show today in Barcelona in 2022 just as they were in 1992.
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