The Tokyo Olympic Games will forever be associated with a pandemic that has ruled our lives for more than 500 days. But, although held in catastrophic times, the prestige of the event was undimmed.



While spectators weren’t present, television cameras were, and once again the world united to see the fastest, strongest and most agile of our species compete.

Staff member Elroy Gelant (on the left, in green and gold running gear) says running the marathon at the Olympic Games was the most difficult race of his life, mainly because of the scorching heat and sky-high humidity.

Elroy ran on resolve and resilience


eish! asked Elroy to tell us more about his experiences at the Olympic Games.


“We always had to adhere to social distancing protocols, couldn’t leave the Olympic Village and had to submit a Covid-19 test every morning before 09:00.”


“As for the marathon, it was the most difficult race of my life,” says Elroy. “At about the 30 km–mark – 12 km before the finish line – it felt like my body was starting to overheat. Normally sweat helps to cool you down, but the humidity was too high for that to help. Every kilometre I thought about giving up, but I told myself that I was not allowed to call it quits. I had to speak to myself, I had to remind myself to remain positive.”


In all, 34 participants did not finish the race. That Elroy did is a testament to his resolve and resilience. For two hours, 16 minutes and 43 seconds, he just kept going.


 “Many top athletes did not finish that race... I am proud that I did.”


The NWU concurs.



Team SA’s mental health was in safe hands


Dr Pieter Kruger, director of the NWU’s Centre for Health and Human Performance, says the time he spent in Japan was both enjoyable and challenging.


The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) contracted him as clinical and sports psychologist to support the athletes and managers with their mental health.


“I had to move between different sports codes and events and the South African group of more than 200 kept me busy,” he says. “Although my role was mainly clinical, probably over half of the athletes had questions and wanted some performance-related support as well.”


He says the attitude of all athletes and staff was without exception upbeat and they supported each other.


“Although the performance of the South Africans was not quite what everyone had hoped for, there were often very small margins between winning and losing. Many of the athletes were disappointed, but they kept on fighting until the end.


“I think we have all learned valuable lessons from this experience, and hopefully this can help everybody to move forward and improve their performance at the 2024 Games in Paris.”


Despite all the Covid-19 and performance challenges, being involved at the Olympic Games was an amazing experience, says the NWU’s Dr Pieter Kruger. “Japan needs to be commended for how they managed to pull it all off.”

Jean Verster says Japan should be commended for their friendliness and for being so well organised.

Present at the event in the Far East were some familiar faces from the NWU. Among them were Jean Verster, manager of the NWU’s High Performance Institute, Dr Pieter Kruger, director of the NWU Centre for Health and Human Performance, Elroy Gelant from People and Culture and Pierre Blignaut, a sports coach who is associated with the NWU on a part-time basis.


Each one of them had a special role at the Olympics. Jean was manager of the South African athletics team, Pieter was the team’s sport psychologist, Pierre was the South African athletics team's shot put and discus coach, and Elroy participated in the marathon.


An arduous event


Elroy finished 34th in what can best be described as an arduous event given the extreme weather conditions: scorching heat and sky-high humidity.


“It was a great experience, although the weather was brutal. The humidity was an especially big challenge. In terms of the next Olympic Games, I think I gained vital experience.


“All in all, I really enjoyed the Games. It was different, but we adapted and we still got to meet and interact with some of the world’s best athletes,” he says.


Japan scores extra points for effectiveness


Pieter says Japan’s system of Covid-19 protocols was incredibly effective, without being overwhelming. “Although the Olympic Village was a bio-secure environment, there was enough space to move around and the facilities were top class and efficiently managed.


“The Japanese support staff and public were super friendly and helpful and went out of their way to make sure everything ran smoothly.”


What a friendly city


According to Jean, being at the Tokyo Olympic Games was an unforgettable experience.


“It was such a well-organised event in an unbelievable country. The people were so friendly and although we only had about two days at the end of the tournament to explore the city, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.


“The way the children came to greet us in the streets while handing out sweets is something that will live with me for a very long time.”