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Can Gerda get gold against the odds?

Gerda Steyn is capable of springing a surprise in the Olympic marathon on Saturday. Picture: Phando Jikelo, African News Agency (ANA)

The golden girl of South African road running has become synonymous with victory over the last few years.

THE RELATIONSHIP between Team South Africa and medals at the Tokyo Olympics has so far resembled that of oil and water.

Forgive some of us, then, for expecting miracles from the athletes still to compete as the Games wind to a close.

A disappointing three medals from a nation that had spoken of adding four more to their haul of 10 from Rio 2016 has left many disappointed and with a bitter taste in the mouth. And what better way to wash that off than through a surprise last minute golden performance.

Not that a Gerda Steyn win would be a surprise, the golden girl of South African road running having become synonymous with victory over the last few years.

In the Olympic Marathon in Sapporo on Saturday, a win by our national record holder would be tantamount to a miracle though. Brilliant as she is, having smashed Colleen de Reuck’s long-standing mark from 1996 with that brilliant 2:25.28 in Siena, Italy, in June to seal her ticket to the Games, Steyn will not toe the start line as one of the favourites.

Not with that record run of hers having only earned her a fifth-place finish at the Xiamen Marathon and Tuscany Camp Global Elite race. Not with at least 10 other runners having gone way faster than her time in the build-up to the race. Not with the world record holder in the 42.2km distance, Kenya’s Brigid Kosgei (2:14:04) in the race.

All those reasons – and there are more – she’s not a favourite could, however, work in Steyn’s favour. After all, wasn’t her compatriot Josiah Thugwane expected to be just an also-ran back in 1996 in Atlanta, only for the man from Mpumalanga to strike gold?

It is expecting a bit too much, of course, to anticipate gold from Steyn. But then again was it not dreamy to imagine her smashing that Comrades Marathon Up Run record that had stood for more than a decade?

When she moved down to the marathon, didn’t many feel she wouldn’t have the speed to shine as well as she had in the ultra-distances? And what did she do?

Steyn, it would appear, thrives on going against the odds.

She has said, since first qualifying for the event that should have taken place last year via a fantastic Personal Best 2:27.48 at the 2019 New York Marathon, that merely qualifying for the Games is a huge achievement.

But so competitive is the Nedbank Running Club star that she will be out to challenge for the medals tomorrow.

In her favour is the fact that the conditions on race day are likely to be similar to those she’s accustomed to at her base out in Dubai. And with the Olympics almost always about the medals and not the time, the race is likely to be won in around the time similar to Jemima Sungong’s 2:24.04 in a similarly hot and humid Rio in 2016.

It would mean Steyn having to run another national record to stand a chance of a medal. Not that, that would be too much to ask of South Africa’s road running golden girl.

She’s been producing miracles for a while now and we can surely be excused for dreaming of her smiling her way to another to change Team South Africa’s relationship with Tokyo 2020 Olympics medals on Saturday.

Matshelane Mamabolo

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