MILDRED EUROPA TAYLOR
Four years before South African athlete Reggie Walker became an Olympic champion in the 100 meters in London, two Tswana tribesmen Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani informally participated in the 1904 St Louis Olympics and made history. Referred to as LenTau and Yasmani because officials could not pronounce their surnames, the two became the first Black Africans to compete in the modern Olympics when they ran in the Summer Olympics men’s marathon.
The two were not experienced long-distance runners. “Instead, they were battle-hardened soldiers – Boer commandos proficient in horse riding and guerrilla warfare, machine gunners in the British imperial forces, and Tswana dispatch runners, all of them brought to St Louis by the imperative to earn a living after a protracted war of attrition,” a report by Mail and Guardian said.
LenTau and Yasmani had come to St Louis for The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, informally known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. The international exposition ran from April to December, while the Olympics were from August to September. A report notes that the South African dominion assembled a group of about 500 to150 Britons, 200 Boer men, 50 Boer women and children, and 40 Black Africans for the Fair. LenTau and Yasmani, who were among the Black Africans, were to reenact scenes from the Boer Wars including acting as prisoners of war. The two were said to have served as dispatch runners in the war.