Sepeng’s advice to medal hopefuls: Become a zombie

Hezekiel Sepeng, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist. | Shayne Robinson SAPA

Hezekiel Sepeng, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist. | Shayne Robinson SAPA

Published May 27, 2024



WHAT does an aspiring athlete do two months away from participating on the world’s biggest sporting stage? Develop tunnel vision, that’s what you do.

“You’ve got to get focused, zone in so much on what it is you want to achieve that those around you end up calling you a zombie.”

Hezekiel Sepeng should know. He has, after all, shone pretty brightly at the Olympic Games and as the countdown to Paris 2024 begins in earnest, there are few better placed to advice members of Team South Africa than him.

Now almost a 50-year-old husband and father whose involvement in the sport is more in an advisory role, Sepeng was a silver medallist in the 800m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA.

He is excited about this year’s Games and with today marking 60 days to go before the man who serves as high performance manager at Athletics South Africa (ASA) shared some pearls of wisdom that he hopes the current generation will heed.

“For Atlanta ’96, my coach JP van der Merwe and I set our goal at making it into the final because we knew that it would open doors for invitations to the big meets.

“And with two months to go, it was time to focus on the goal. I remember writing down my Olympics goals and saying, ‘1996 I reach the final, 2000 I get a medal and 2004 I will win gold’.”

Like all best laid plans, things did not go that way as Sepeng surprised himself by winning the silver medal in 1996. And it was all down to his approach and attitude building up to Atlanta.

“After I’d qualified, I competed in races in Europe during the two months before and things were not going accordingly, not 100 percent as we had planned,” he explained.

“But I still focused on my goal and did not allow that to derail me. I had tunnel vision, reach the final. All I was thinking about was my goal and it affected how I related with people around me.

“But that’s how it’s got to be if you have a goal. If the people close to you are aware of what you are working towards, they will understand when you seem like a you are zombie, being so focused that you do nothing else but whatever it is that will help you achieve your set goal.”

Sepeng believes the country has a chance at getting an athletics medal at the Games and believes Prudence Sekgodiso has the chance to emulate him and Caster Semenya by bringing home a medal from the 800m.

“She is in great shape, and I believe it is possible for her to get the medal.

“The only thing she needs to get right is that her mental state has to be right. She needs to understand that she has to be in a different zone. She has to think nothing else but that medal.

“Even if people around her think she is a zombie, she must not be worried about that. It has to be tunnel vision from here onwards. That’s how you get an Olympic medal.”

Hopefully members of Team SA heed the Olympic silver medallist’s advice.

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