'I see a lot of improvement' - Thembisa Mile race walking champ Philasande Mlambo reflects on 2023
At 21 years old Philasande Mlambo believes that he is on the cusp of becoming one the country’s best race walkers. The Durban University of Technology student who hails from the KwaZulu-Natal town of Dundee has been slowly making his way up the pecking order and registered the biggest win of his career to date when he breasted the tape in 6:42 to take the senior men’s walk at the Thembisa Street Mile on 29 October. Speaking to #TheTopRunner, Mlambo admits that it was difficult during the early days because many people in his hometown were confused when he told them that he was a race walker.
"I think it’s passion and also getting exposed to the environment in Durban where many people understand what I’m doing compared to in the village," he said when asked why he decided to stick with the sport that others quit. "It’s also good to have DUT there to assist and motivate us to keep going with sports. I think also being featured on SuperSport #TheTopRunner when I was a junior changed my life because I worked hard so that if you came back to follow up I wanted to make sure that you see me somewhere one day."
And that’s precisely what the man who was discovered by Sbonelo Khulu at the Dundee Development Athletics Club is doing - he's making sure that those in the walking community remember his name. Because in addition to his success in Thembisa, he also claimed the bronze medal at the University Sports South Africa (USSA) Championships in Bloemfontein in 1:44:31.00 making 2023 his best year so far. These are significant milestones for an athlete whose love for walking blossomed when he earned fourth position at the 2018 ASA U18 Youth and Junior Championships at the Dal Josaphat Stadium in Paarl because that's when he began to believe that he could compete against the best, even if he was from a small largely rural town. For all that he has achieved in his first year as a senior, he gives the credit to his coach.
“So far my training is going very well and I give credit to my coach Sihle Shange. I think we are going far together. I also have some strong training partners including the current SA 20km Walk champion Wandile Ndawo and I think we are working well together. I see a lot of improvement,” explained the man who started out as a runner and walker during his junior days before deciding to focus exclusively on race walking.
Buoyed by the success he enjoyed this year Mlambo wants to take it to the next level in 2024 saying if he can make an impact at the Senior national track and field championships, then that would be the highlight of his year. “Next year the plan is to go for the SA Walking Championships in Cape Town and try and get a gold or a silver at the USSA Championships. I’m also aiming to make it into the top five at the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships which will be in KZN.”