Len Taunyane

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Len Taunyane
Len Taunyane.jpg
Personal information
Nickname(s) Len Tau
Country South Africa
Sport Track and field
Event(s) Marathon

Len Taunyane ([lɪn tauˈɲanɪ] fl. 1880s – 1904) was a South African track and field athlete who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics in the Men's marathon, and was therefore one of the first two black Africans to participate in the modern Olympic Games.

Early life[edit]

Taunyane was a member of the Tswana people and a veteran of the Second Boer War, having served as a despatch runner. A photo taken between 1900 and 1902 shows him as a prisoner-of-war on Saint Helena. Little is otherwise known about his life. Taunyane may have been a student at the University of the Free State. He travelled to the US in 1904 to appear in the Boer War Exhibition at the St Louis World's Fair. There he participated in twice-daily re-enactments of the Battle of Colenso and the Battle of Paardeberg.[1]

1904 Marathon[edit]

The 1904 Marathon was a badly organised and largely informal affair, run on an unsuitable course and over roads so dusty that it caused many of the athletes to collapse. Taunyane entered the race at the last minute, and therefore did not formally represent South Africa. He was referred to as "Len Tau" or "Lentauw" by officials who could not pronounce his name.[2]

Taunyane likely ran barefoot, and finished in ninth place out of a field of 32 and 14 finishers.[3] This was a disappointment, as many observers were sure that Taunyane could have done better if he had not been chased nearly a mile off course by aggressive dogs.[4][5]

Taunyane (second from left) as a prisoner of war on Saint Helena, ca. 1900

Nothing is known of Taunyane's later life. He may have returned to South Africa after the end of the Boer War Exhibition, or have chosen to remain in the United States.


  1. ^ O'Toole, Sean. "The Athletes". CityScapes. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  2. ^ McLachlan, Sean (2013). It Happened in Missouri. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 88. 
  3. ^ Olympic profile
  4. ^ Cronin, Brian (2010-08-10). "Sports Legend Revealed: A marathon runner nearly died". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved 31 August 2010. 
  5. ^ O’Toole, Sean. "Story of South Africa's first black Olympians keeps us guessing". Mail & Guardian Online. Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2016.