It was, of course, a symbolic moment for South Africa, but the historic battle between Elana Meyer and Derartu Tulu at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was equally important for the African continent and was widely noticed by the rest of the world.
Visuals of Meyer trying to shake off Tulu in the women’s 10 000m final are among the most special in the history of South African athletics, despite the fact that she was unable to break the young Ethiopian as she ultimately settled for the silver medal behind a dominant Tulu.
But it was the lap of honour they shared afterwards which is best remembered by the international athletics community.
Tulu was the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, while Meyer earned South Africa’s first medal at the Games after being readmitted to the showpiece following a lengthy absence due to political isolation.
Pictures of Tulu and Meyer (who competed under a neutral flag in the fledgling stages of South Africa’s new democracy) jogging and posing together after the race remain among the most iconic in the sport.
And if we had forgotten, we were reminded just how influential the race was from a global perspective when World Athletics invited Meyer and Tulu to Barcelona this week to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the special moment they shared, which was broadcast around the world, creating a sense of African unity which we hadn’t rally seen before on the athletics track.
When they stepped on the track together again this week, Meyer and Tulu shared an emotional embrace.
Both athletes went on to achieve even greater things in their careers, but it was the 10 000m final in Barcelona for which they will be best remembered.
“The embrace after the race and the victory lap together was a spontaneous gesture,” Meyer recalled in an interview with World Athletics.
“I was always taught to persevere in life and came to give my best effort. That time I did not win – I was beaten by the better athlete on that day – but for me, being able to participate and win a medal was already a great achievement.
“Now looking back I realise the race was not 25 laps – it was the 26th lap that really had an impact.”
That ’26th lap’ had more of an impact than either athlete could have imagined at the time, and their return to Barcelona this week was a pleasant reminder of the joyous celebration they shared.
South Africa and Ethiopia will likely never forget that moment, which is forever etched into sporting legend in both countries.
And it’s nice to know, for all it meant to us, the rest of the world remembers too.