On August 4, 1996, at the Atlanta Olympics, Josia Thugwane won the marathon and became the first black South African to earn a gold medal. Just 2 years after Nelson Mandela’s historic presidential election in a nation torn by more than 40 years of apartheid, Thugwane offered a story the media craved for his symbolic rise from uneducated coal miner to globally marketed icon. Then the South African basically vanished following the 2000 Sydney Games, as another forgotten Olympic hero, because of the limited 4-year media cycle. The identity markers of a hero include athletic excellence, elicitation of emotion, conveying symbolic meaning, and overcoming elements beyond the individual’s control to become iconic. Guided by framing theory, this mixed-methods content analysis examined 179 news stories across five countries and 2 decades, to identify how the South African marathoner’s identity was constructed and shaped from heralded to abandoned hero and why he resurfaced. This approach offered a socially derived view of Thugwane produced through the ideological process of journalism that shaped ideas and views while excluding or marginalizing others. Over time, media appreciated his athletic success for what it was against the backdrop of apartheid, which is why Thugwane is still discussed in heroic terms for overcoming odds to reach his sport’s pinnacle.


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pp. 99-123
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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