'I've been very smart in my training' - Mthembu ahead of long jump at World University Games
Even though he admits that it has been difficult to balance his studies with his fledgling athletic career, Asande Mthembu is confident ahead of his debut at the World University Games today. The 19-year-old Tshwane University of Technology student is one of two long jumpers that are representing South Africa at the global tertiary competition in the Chinese city of Chengdu. Mthembu says although his road to Chengdu has been difficult, it feels good to see his hard work being rewarded.
"It's been a very hard journey to mix school and athletics," he told #TheTopRunner. "Of course there are a lot of trials and tribulations along the way, especially given the subjects I did in high school compared to what I'm doing now in Varsity. First year is a very hard year. And then as you get older you have to put in more work to keep up with your competitors," explained the man who is studying computer systems engineering.
Yet since completing matric at Prestige College in Hammanskraal last year, Mthembu who is also a triple jumper, has managed to keep up with his studies while excelling in the long jump pit. In March he won the SA U20 title with an enormous leap of 8.08 at the Msunduzi Athletics Stadium in Pietermaritzburg, before going on to claim the silver medal at the African U20 Championships in Zambia in May. The man who originally hails from KwaZulu-Natal says that eight metre leap in front of his family, during a difficult academic year, has showed him that he is capable of.
"I'm feeling confident," said the man who is coached by Neil Cornelius. "I've been very smart in my training. I haven't done too much or pushed my body to any limits and it's only now that we are going to be doing some proper work and I'm still growing as well."
With his physical development taken care of by a man who guided also guided Olympic silver medalist Luvo Manyonga, Mthembu believes that he can continue the great tradition of South African long jumping. Manyonga and Khotso Mokoena earned Olympic medals, Rushwahl Samaai claimed bronze medals at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games, while Zarck Visser won Commonwealth silver and famously won the 2013 Diamond League title. And because he is jumping similar distances to what they did at his age, Mthembu is emboldened that he can also step up and perform on the world stage.
"When it comes to the youth and junior levels South Africa is at an all time peak when it comes to long jump. I mean we had someone who broke the U18 SA Record (Temoso Masikane's 8.06) and simultaneously we had the third furthest in SA history distance for U20's (Mthembu's 8.08). So I think that the potential that we see in South African long jump has given me the confidence that if we are matching the levels that our previous Olympians did or doing even better then clearly we are headed in the right direction and can reach the levels they reached."
Mthembu and Hani Nikithemba of Varsity College Queenstown in the Men's Long Jump qualification on Friday 5 August.