Receiving a late nod, Khotso Mokoena will join the small South African contingent at the IAAF World Indoor Championships starting in Birmingham, England on Thursday.
While compatriots Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai are among the favourites for the podium in the long jump, Mokoena will need to dig deep if he hopes to put up a fight after receiving a wildcard entry from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
At the age of 32, however, he brings a wealth of experience to the six-member SA team, and there is still some spring left in his legs.
Here’s five reasons we shouldn’t write him off.
Mokoena has twice stepped on the podium at the global indoor championships. Ten years ago, in Seville, he held his nerve to edge out British athlete Chris Tomlinson by two centimetres, clinching the gold medal with a leap of 8.08m. Two years later, at the Doha 2010 edition, he achieved the same distance but settled for the silver medal
A supremely gifted athlete who displayed talent as a high jumper in his youth, Mokoena has bounced back and forth between his two best disciplines throughout his senior career. He has earned Olympic and outdoor World Championships silver medals in the long jump, as well as Commonwealth and African titles in the triple jump
In a remarkable string of performances, Mokoena cleared the eight-metre barrier in the long jump for 12 straight seasons between 2004 and 2015. Last year, proving he could still rattle his younger opponents, he launched a season’s best of 8.19m, narrowly missing out on a spot at the World Championships in a tightly contested qualifying race
Until Manyonga’s prodigious ability surfaced, Mokoena held the SA senior (8.50m), junior (8.09m) and youth (7.82m) long jump records, as well as the SA senior (17.35m), junior (16.96) and youth (16.03m) triple jump marks. Also a former national indoor record holder, his junior and senior long jump standards have fallen, but his other four marks still stand firm
Manyonga and Samaai both speak highly of Mokoena, the godfather of a generation of long jumpers who have made a major impact in terms of both quality and depth at international level. With Mokoena’s legacy having opened the door for Manyonga and Samaai’s blossoming careers, the trio will no doubt motivate one other as they target a historic podium sweep