'I just love them' - ASA Coach of the Year Mike Mbambani shares his secret as Seoposengwe joins Ikhamva
Known more for his role as a leader, businessman and mentor, the usually stoic Mike Mbambani cut a softer figure at the Athletics South Africa (ASA) Awards on Saturday night (27 January). Because moments after being named the federation's coach of the year, he could not hold back the emotions as he reflected on just how far some of his athletes have come since he started coaching them. Dismissed as ill-disciplined troublemakers, some joined Mbambani's Ikhamva Athletic Club as a last resort only to be transformed into national champions under his guidance.
"I get very emotional," he said wiping the tears away from eyes. "I know where I found Meli - Frans. He was rejected by his own family. When his mom passed away, the new mother didn't accept him. That is how I started the camp. He didn't have anyone to run to and I asked myself what do we do with such a talent? I just love them. I know what Thabang went through. I would ask myself if someone has a dustbin for a human being? Can the system reject a child? That's when I asked my family to please allow me to spend their money for these kids, because at that time there was no sponsorship."
No doubt inspired by Frans' transformation from also-ran into the 2022 ASA Half Marathon Champion and 2:09 marathoner, more athletes have flocked to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality for a new start, with the best example of redemption in Gqeberha coming under the guise of Thabang Mosiako. After moving from Potchefstroom to PE in 2021, the Nedbank Running Club top runner had a 2023 to remember. He won his first national title on the road (21,1km), set a new Eastern Province Athletics (EPA) record, ran under 28 minutes for 10km thrice and finished in sixth place at the World Half Marathon Championships.
"Remember I take some of these athletes as athletes who were rejected. I said to myself - God will guide me. We've got five SA Champs in that camp. This award actually belongs to my athletes. I'm quite humbled to see that the work we are doing in the Gqeberha peripheries is being recognized at this stage of athletics. There's no bigger stage than this in athletics in South Africa. Thank you very much to everyone."
Paying tribute to the EPA's leadership who have given him the space to operate in the province, the man who is the driving force behind the Legacy Project has seen his camp grow while placing EPA on the map as they compete favourably against some of the more fancied ASA provinces in Gauteng. Recently, he welcomed Nicholas Seoposengwe who has joined the orange team after parting ways with Boxer Athletic Club amid a similar cloud of ill-discipline. Like he did with Frans and Mosiako, Mbambani believes he can get the best out of this talented youngster.
"Everyone that comes into that camp, we mould them around Meli. Meli is one of the most disciplined athletes I've actually met in this country. I phoned a couple of guys when this young boy was thinking of moving, and whenever you talk about this boy they say 'No Mike you're wasting your time.' The boy was under pressure. The boy couldn't handle the pressure and started drinking. But he was third in the EP 10km Championships. In his first championship race he was on the podium. He has showed me a different side of him. I guess if they have to travel this route, then let it be."