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Elroy Gelant is heading to Paris Olympics later in 2024. Picture: GRANT PITCHER
Elroy Gelant is heading to Paris Olympics later in 2024. Picture: GRANT PITCHER

Athlete Elroy Gelant woke up to the most pleasant of surprises on Wednesday morning ... news that confirmed his place in Team SA for the Olympic Games in France in July.

That news puts another piece of his long-distance puzzle in place.

From growing up in near-poverty in Pacaltsdorp to almost 17 years in Potchefstroom his next step will be Paris (his third Olympics) and the Olympic marathon.

This year has certainly been a helter-skelter one of personal bests and first places.

He ran a personal best of 2hr 8 min 56 over the 42.2km endurance event in Spain earlier in 2024 and has since gone on to clinch both the national marathon and half-marathon titles in Durban and Gqeberha.

It’s been a giant year for Gelant, made all the more remarkable by the fact that at 37, he is no spring chicken.

Pacaltsdorp Primary School near in George, Western Cape, was where it all started for Gelant at age nine, where he and Two Oceans runner-up Lloyd Bosman bossed the running scene.

“My teacher, Mr George de Reuck, definitely laid my running foundations when Lloyd and I were in his care,” he recalled this week.

Only, it wasn’t athletics that got him noticed.

“I received a sports bursary to Outeniqua High, but it was for my cricketing skills. I represented my district in a national tournament in Rustenburg but early in high school I realised I was a better runner.”

His roots are always going to be back in George though where his dad is a technician in the department of water affairs while his mom is a housewife and manages a few personal properties. His younger siblings are both in the medical business with his sister an administrative clerk at George Hospital and his “baby brother” a male nurse at George Mediclinic.

But things weren’t all rosy for the Gelants ... in fact life was a grind.

“I won’t lie, it was tough at times. We didn’t quite live in poverty but some days there was no food on the table and my mom had to go around looking for work. I’d have to tag along as there was no-one home to look after me.

“And I still treasure those moments, the reason being that I appreciate the enormous efforts my parents put in to give me both a running and academic career.”

For his part teacher De Reuck fondly remembers the young Gelant.

Now retired and on pension, he says: “I’m still involved with track and cross-country. I saw Elroy’s talents when he was eight years old. His stamina astounded me.

“He didn’t have competition in his age group so I let him run in the older age groups. He was very keen and disciplined as was Lloyd. We had specific training days after school and he was outside my classroom each day to check whether there was training.

“It truly makes me proud to see how much he’s achieved and that my modest efforts were all worth it.”

Gelant’s athletics efforts have already been touched upon but academically he’s flourishing too.

Now a junior lecturer at North West University, he has an honours degree in human resources management, honours in labour relations and is doing his Masters in HR management.

Like so many other SA sports persona, his life has also been personally affected by crime.

“In 2009, I was stabbed in my right shoulder after a braai at my house when Lloyd [Bosman] and I were walking a friend home.

“I lost a huge amount of blood and was rushed to hospital where I needed a significant number of stitches.”

Nothing became of the case though as the travel difficulties of going between Potchefstroom and George were too challenging.

There was something of a plus side though. Because of the shoulder injury his body couldn’t handle the raw speed of the 800m/1,500m events so he moved up to the 5,000m where his true talent started shining through.

“Later on, I represented my country in the 5,000m final at the Rio Olympics, competing against prominent runners like Sir Mo Farah and Bernard Lagat. I even set the SA 5,000m record with a time of 13:04.88.

“My first Olympic experience was mind-blowing, and to this day I still get goosebumps. Here was a young boy from little Pacaltsdorp rubbing shoulders with the likes of Usain Bolt and Serena Williams in the Olympic Village. It really was a dream come true and I’ll always treasure it.”

He admits he’s still struggling to juggle work responsibilities with the added load of training that comes with the transition from track to marathon but is taking it all in his stride.

He has mixed feelings when asked which he prefers.

“I really enjoyed running track. There’s an element of excitement and your nerves feel different compared to road running. However, I must say that I fell in love with road running.

“There’s something special about it — the mass participation of athletes, the lively atmosphere before the start of the race, and officially, the races are longer.

“This means that sometimes you have time to recover and possibly win a race. In athletics, the race is over in anything between three to 13 minutes.”

Just like teacher De Reuck was a pivotal part of Gelant’s road to fame, girlfriend Tamzin Thomas, a national level sprinter, is the rock at his side.

“She’s also in Potch and we’ve been together for almost eight years. She’s studying for a bachelor of Health Sciences with a focus on sports coaching and human movement sciences. We compliment each other very nicely and I can’t thank her enough for the role she’s played — definitely the pillar of my success this year.”

Looking past Paris and Gelant’s in it for the long haul. “Running is ingrained in my very being and without it I wouldn’t be the person I am. I have a great desire to conquer the ultra distances, starting with Two Oceans (56km) and eventually working up to the Comrades Marathon.”

Away from the lecture hall and lung-busting efforts, Gelant loves taking time off with Thomas.

“I love listening to soul, R&B music and gospel and Tamzin and I enjoy road trips, safaris and visiting farm markets because we’re both very much food enthusiasts.”

Jean Verster, a former national cross-country champion and multiple track champion, is Gelant’s coach at Potch and can’t speak highly enough of his charge.

“He’s such a great guy and deserves every bit of recognition. He was in fantastic shape and about to run London just before Covid hit but during the pandemic he ended up with a nasty back injury after going from running 200km a week to sitting most of the day.

“Took us about a year to get him right and things picked up in 2022. He’s actually in good track shape right now as well and is just going from strength to strength.

“What a fantastic person, a well-educated man, a bunch of degrees, well-respected by everyone here. At Potch Track Club we have a big group of runners and Elroy is very much one of the leaders and so many people look up to him. He’s never shy to go and speak at functions and is basically just a super human being.”

Further down the road and Gelant has high hopes of one day returning to George to help plough back his vast experience into the community and one wouldn’t bet on the wheel turning full circle and him discovering yet more Pacaltsdorp prodigies.

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