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Updated 24 July 2009
Khotso Godfrey MOKOENA, South Africa (Long Jump/Triple Jump)
Born 6 March 1985, Ratanda, Heidelberg (60km east of Johannesburg)
1.90m / 72kg
The first of 2 children (he has a younger sister)
Based in Pretoria and registered with Athletics Gauteng North
A meeting in Helsinki with his idol, Mike Powell, the Long Jump World record holder, provided an unforgettable moment to be cherished for the rest of his life for South Africa’s record breaking horizontal jumper, Khotso Godfrey Mokoena. But such is Mokoena’s ambition that he hopes one day to exceed the 8.95 Powell jumped at the 1991 Tokyo World Championships and become World record holder himself.
Yet it was as a triple jumper that Mokoena made his first big global impression, winning the World Junior title in Grosseto, Italy, in 2004. At the same championships, he took the silver medal in the Long Jump behind Italy’s future (2007) senior World runner-up Andrew Howe.
Growing up in Ratanda, after casual participation in football and basketball, Mokoena had his initial contact with athletics at age of 13. And it was while he was at the nearby Nigel High School that his exceptional talent was spotted and developed by a female teacher and coach, Elna de Beer.
Mokoena started his international career as a high jumper at the 2001 World Youth Championships (7th, 2.10). Then, switching events, he qualified for the Long Jump Final at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica (7.47q, 7.08 for 12th in Final) and took up the Triple Jump in September, recording a national youth and junior record (16.03) just five days after having first attempted it in training.
Between 2002 and 2006, Mokoena rewrote the South African record book with new youth, junior and senior records in both horizontal jumps. In 2003 he doubled at the All Africa Games, in Abuja, Nigeria, winning two medals. He took the silver in the Triple Jump, with a PB 16.28m, and bronze in the Long Jump with a low-altitude PB 7.83. He went from there to the inaugural Afro-Asian Games, in Hyderabad, India, two weeks later and collected two more medals, both bronze, with less distinguished performances (7.76 /15.92).
In the 2004 World Junior Championships, Mokoena’s gold was achieved with 16.77 (low-altitude PB) and his silver in the Long Jump with a PB and South African junior record 8.09. At the Athens Olympics, contesting only the Triple Jump, he failed to reach the Final.
In 2005 Mokoena long jumped better than 8 metres on nine occasions, including an 8.37 altitude PB at the national university championships and a windy 8.11 for 7th at the World Championships in Helsinki (he did not contest the Triple Jump). In the Triple Jump he set a national record 17.25 at the SA Championships in Durban.
In 2006, Mokoena’s highlights included the new national Long Jump record of 8.39, set in Lapinlahti, Finland, as well as Triple Jump silver medals at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne (16.95) and the African Championships in Mauritius (16.67w).
After changing his technique, Mokoena decided to concentrate mainly on the Long Jump leading up to 2008. He started 2007 with a few outstanding indoor victories – 8.18 in Paris and 8.13 in Birmingham – before winning in Pretoria (8.34), Osaka (8.18w) and Dakar (8.32w). At the All Africa Games, in Algiers in July, he struggled with his run-up and had to settle for third.
As a student in Potchefstroom, he came into frequent contact with some of the world’s athletics stars, many of whom – especially Europeans – used the town for training. He attended North-West University, Potchefstroom, but lost interest and concentrated more on athletics, returning during 2007 to the Johannesburg area. He is now based in Pretoria.
Owen van Niekerk had taken over from De Beer as Mokoena’s coach when it proved difficult for De Beer to continue because she was at Nigel and he was at Potchefstroom, 150k apart. Van Niekerk was adamant that Mokoena had the talent to become the world’s best long jumper.
Some observers questioned whether the athlete should continue to compete in both jumps and Mokoena said: “At this stage I feel pretty confident that I can do both quite successfully. But it is not easy and is becoming more difficult as time progresses.” And, as he concentrated on the Long Jump leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he has not competed in Triple Jump since February 2007.
Although enjoying reasonable success, 2007 was not Mokoena’s best year. He did impressively well in the qualifying rounds of the All Africa Games, in Algiers, and the World Championships, in Osaka, but he failed to build on it and had to settle for third and fifth place in the Finals. However, his year best of 8.34 was 5th best in the world. He also set a new national indoor record of 8.18 in Paris for his only international victory of the year.
Late in 2007 Mokoena parted with van Niekerk and, after a brief spell with his Finnish manager, joined forces with Angus Pohl as new coach. But they parted, too, less than two months before Beijing.
Mokoena started 2008 well by winning the World Indoor title in Valencia but, at the National Championships a week later in Stellenbosch, he most unexpectedly lost his national crown to Keenan Watson (20) who exceeded himself with a wind-assisted 8.26. It was Watson’s first ever jump beyond 8 metres and 1cm better than Mokoena’s legal 8.25.
Starting the European season on a high note with a windy 8.35 victory in Hengelo, since then Mokoena was consistent between 8.00 and 8.20 with good placings (2nd, 3rd twice 5th) in Golden League meetings, making him positive about his visit to Beijing. “I am ready and looking forward to it, although I know that my first and most important task is to get into the Final,” he said, adding that he had never been so excited about a major event.
And Mokena certainly rose to the occasion, claiming silver behind Panama’s Irving Saladino with 8.24. Although coaching uncertainty played a major role at the time, a cool head enabled him to rise above it all to such an extent that he became his country’s sole medal winner in China.
Afterwards he sat down with a panel of coaching experts, including his original coach, Elna de Beer, and managed to get his career on course again.
With his visit to the Beijing Olympics still fresh in mind, he took Europe by storm in 2009 with more confidence than ever in his career. After jumping 8.33m at three consecutive meetings in Europe and sending out signals that his own national record of 8.39 was in danger, he arrived in Spain. His visit to Madrid on 4 July 2009 would prove to be one of his highlights. The result, although he did not win, was super special because his 8.50m also eclipsed the African record held by Cheikh Toure of Senegal since 1997, by 4 cm.
On the eve of Berlin Mokoena has reason to approach the global championships with more confidence than before.
With his determination and capacity to remain cool in difficult circumstances, it is little wonder that Mokoena is proving popular as a motivational speaker. Although only 24, already he has addressed teachers and children at various schools. From his early earnings in athletics, he has bought a laptop computer that he uses during lectures. Away from the track and speaking-room, Mokoena likes to spend his time reading and listening to gospel music.
Long Jump: 8.50 (2009)/8.18i (2007)
Triple Jump: 17.25 (2005)
Long Jump/Triple Jump: 2000: 6.66m / --; 2001: 7.17 / --; 2002: 7.82/ 16.03; 2003: 7.84 /16.28; 2004: 8.09 /16.96; 2005: 8.37/17.25; 2006: 8.39/16.95; 2007: 8.34/16.75; 2008: 8.25 (8.35w)/---; 2009: 8.50m.
2001 5th World Youth Championships (High Jump)
2002 12th World Junior Championships (Long Jump)
2003 2nd All Africa Games (Triple Jump)
2003 3rd All Africa Games (Long Jump)
2003 3rd Afro-Asian Games (Long Jump)
2003 3rd Afro-Asian Games (Triple Jump)
2004 1st World Junior Championships (Triple Jump)
2004 2nd World Junior Championships (Long Jump)
2004 14qB Olympic Games (Triple Jump)
2005 7th World Championships (Long Jump)
2006 2nd Commonwealth Games (Triple Jump)
2006 4th Commonwealth Games (Long Jump)
2006 5th World Indoor Championships (Long Jump)
2006 2nd African Championships (Long Jump)
2007 3rd All Africa Games (Long Jump)
2007 5th World Championships (Long Jump)
2007 3rd World Athletics Final (Long Jump)
2008 1st World Indoor Championships (Long Jump)
2008 2nd Olympic Games (Long Jump)
Prepared by Gert le Roux for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2006-2009.