'I'm a family man. It's athletics and nothing else' - Mbambani named as World Champs Marathon coach
After guiding Melikhaya Frans to the best 42,2km performance in the country last year, it comes as little surprise that Michael Mbambani has been named as Athletics South Africa (ASA) Marathon coach to lead the team that will take part at the World Championships in Hungary in August. Under the guidance of Mbambani, Frans produced SA's first sub 2:10 clocking at a World Championships event when he ran a lifetime best 2:09:24 in Eugene, Oregon last July.
Asked about the secret to his success, the man who founded the Ikhamva Athletics Club in whose colours Frans compete, says he treats his athletes like family. "Look I'm a family man. Guys need to take full responsibility for their families. When they are here, they are for running and nothing else and they all know that I am a disciplinarian. It's athletics and nothing else but athletics."
This approach worked wonders with Thabang Mosiako who has been a man reborn since relocating from his native North West province to the Eastern Cape in 2021 to start working with Mbambani training alongside Frans. In April, the former SA 5 000m Champion ran a splendid lifetime best of 27:52 during Absa RUN YOUR CITY GQEBERHA 10K, before going to win his first national title on the road when he bested a quality field including Stephen Mokoka, Precious Mashele and Elroy Gelant to win the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon earlier this month in a new lifetime best and new Eastern Province Athletics (EPA) record.
"I don't know which coach has done what we have achieved now with Thabang," he told #TheTopRunner. "Where you win SA Championship twice with two different athletes. It's not a norm where you will see South African athletes coming from Xolile Yawa's time, Zithulele Sinqe and including Hendrick Ramaala's time - you would hardly see an athlete winning this year and then the following year again because you find a lot of specialists on the half marathon."
And what he has witnessed while serving as Race Director for the NMB Half Marathon since its inception in 2014, leads Mbambani to believe that homegrown talent is just as capable as some of the best athletes in the world. "The race has been owned by South African athletes. They've made sure that they fight to the bitter end pushing for PB's. For example in 2019, there was only one foreign athlete in the top ten. That is the pride we have of saying that South African athletes can raise their hands and say; yes we can do it."
Mbambani who was officially appointed by ASA on June 12, will be part of the team SA that leaves for Budapest from the OR Tambo International Airport in August. Stephen Mokoka and Melikhaya Frans are the two marathon athletes that have secured qualification and have been named in ASA's preliminary team.