Three lessons you learn finishing last in an Olympic marathon

Tsepo Mathibelle finished last in the 2012 Olympic men’s marathon, more than 10 minutes behind the next-slowest runner and more than 47 minutes after gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich. But he did finish, unlike the 20 other runner who quit early. 

Mathibelle is now sponsored by Samsung and featured in “A Fighting Chance,” a new documentary from Academy Award-winning director Morgan Neville.

Mathibelle spoke with on the telephone from Lesotho, with the assistance of a translator, and revealed three lessons he learned from his experience in London. 

Never quit

As Mathibelle languished towards the finish line in London, a bailout bus followed closely behind.

20 marathoners decided to take advantage of the relief that the bailout bus provided, including U.S. runners Abdi Abdirahman and Ryan Hall. 

“I was never once tempted,” Mathibelle said. “I was determined to finish the race.”

He has a similar attitude as he prepares to race in Rio. 

“The only thing that will stop me is the finish line,” he said. 

Find a source of motivation

All three marathoners from Lesotho failed to finish at the 2008 Olympics. Four years later, as the only marathoner from Lesotho in London, Mathibelle was determined to make his country proud. 

“I made up my mind that whether or not I had a physical ailment or a mental block, I was going to finish the race,” he said. “Even if I had to crawl.”

He said that listening to cheers from the crowd in London gave him strength.

“Even when I was at the back of the bunch,” he said, “they were still rooting me on.”

Learn from the past

Mathibelle said that he has watched replays of his race from the 2012 Olympics countless times. 

“I see where I came from,” he said, “and where I am now.”

He has set an ambitious goal for his performance in Rio, after clocking 2 hours, 55 minutes, 54 seconds in London. 

“My hope and aspiration is to finish top three,” he said. “But if I fail to do that, I want to post a very fast time, sub 2:10.”