Elroy Gelant participated in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, where he came thirteenth in the 5 000 m final for men. He now has his sights on the Berlin Marathon in 2019 and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The finishing line is 2 km away and come hell or high water, Elroy will cross it and then he will mount the podium.


“We didn’t have thorns in George,” he explains more than 20 years later, “but I promised myself I wouldn’t throw in the towel.”


Elroy kept his promise. He ended third in the under 9 South African championships. Even then this marathon runner knew what direction his future would take.


“I realised that if I could be third in the country, I could take it further. That thorn taught me that I can overcome anything that stands in my way.”


Thirteenth best in the world


On 20 August 2016 he lined up for the 5 000 m final for men at the Olympic Games in Rio, where he brought that thorn full circle with a time of 13:17.47. Thirteenth best in the world.


“It is any athlete’s dream to participate at the highest level in his sport, and this was a tremendous experience,” the 31-year-old assistant at People and Culture explains.


“It felt unreal. When you line up you just see flashes as people take photographs. When you run at the McArthur Stadium in Potchefstroom, you can hear your heartbeat and footsteps. In Rio you heard only the roar of the crowd. I was in seventh heaven.”


God-given talent motivates him


He competes without a break – proven by the series of medals he has won in 2018 – and has already set his sights firmly on the Berlin Marathon in 2019 and the 2020 Games in Tokyo.


After all, the SA marathon record may appear after his name after Berlin, or that is what he hopes, because it is not only to himself that he has made a promise.


“The talent God gave me motivates me. One day when I lay down my head, I want to be able to say that I used 110% of God's gift, not just 60%.”


The road to his heart


On the track or on a training route he may be alone, but he has been sharing his road through life for more than two years with Tamzin Thomas, one of the country’s sprinting stars. They also recently participated together in the Africa Championships in Nigeria. There are also his parents, Yvonne and Steven, whom he calls his inspiration.


He uses the little free time at his disposal for a round of golf or a movie with Tamzin. They also enjoy walking in nature and going on their own voyages of discovery.


Just don’t serve him pasta if you invite him to supper: “Athletes have to eat pasta all the time and I’m getting very tired of it by now!”


A Big Mac at McDonald’s and a large slice of cake before a race are his recipe for success. And ever present in his mind is that thorn…


Sweat and tears run down the cheeks of the 8-year-old Elroy Gelant. With every step the Witbank track demands its pound of flesh. Every time his foot hits the ground, the thorn is ground in deeper.