London — South Africa's only medallist at the 2008 Beijing Games, Khotso Mokoena, was desperate to improve on his performance from four years ago as he prepared to compete in Saturday night's final at the London Games.
Mokoena, who bagged silver in the men's long jump in Beijing, saved the SA team's blushes on the opening day of track and field events on Friday, leaping 8.02 metres with his third effort in the qualifying round.
"I definitely don't want silver," Mokoena said.
"I'm hoping for gold, I'm praying for gold.
"I know I'm capable of getting it and I'm going out there to get it."
Having failed to reach the final at last year's IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Mokoena said a weight had been lifted from his shoulders after he booked his place among the last 12 in London.
"I was a bit tense. It's been a long time since I've been in a championship," he said.
"The last was Daegu and that was a bad experience.
"I was feeling the pressure of wanting to get back into the final.
"By the third (jump) I knew I could make it.
"Even if it was a 7.99m I knew I could go through."
The top five jumpers in the world have all been within six centimetres of each other this season, leaving the Olympic final wide open.
Mokoena said South Africa's medal haul of three gold and one silver in the first week of the Games had lifted his confidence in his attempt to step on the podium again.
"I want to win the final. Those South African medals are motivating and I think I'm the one to jump big (in the final)," he said.
One-lap hurdler LJ van Zyl, who has struggled to shake off a knee injury this season, was disappointed after he was eliminated from his specialist event in the first round, trailing home in sixth place in his heat in 50.31 seconds.
"This injury has niggled since April," said Van Zyl, the bronze medallist at last year's global championships.
"I'm heart broken. I tried to fight back, and I felt I dropped the country, but I did my best."
Van Zyl, however, has another chance to shine when he lines up as part of the SA 4x400m relay team next week.
The relay quartet will hope to improve on their silver medal in Daegu last year.
Van Zyl said his knee only troubled him over the barriers, and he was confident he would be near his best for the relay, but even in his absence he believed the team could earn a medal.
"It is not a problem on the flat," he said.
"I was fine for the first five hurdles but between five and eight I have to stretch to reach the hurdle and that's where the problem is.
"With me or without me we've got a good team.
"If I'm not ready I think Ofentse (Mogawane) or Shaun de Jager will run, but it's a strong squad with Oscar (Pistorius) and Willie de Beer.
"If Oscar has a rolling start he's very strong, and we can do well."