'I wanna show the township kid that it's possible' - hurdler Dhlamini gets first SA colours at 27
"I actually didn't believe when someone told me that I was in the team. I'm over the moon," he said with a huge smile on his face. "I've actually wanted to represent my country for so long, so to get such an opportunity to be in such a talented team brings joy to my heart." Those were Sabelo Dhlamini's words when he heard the news that he had been included in the South African team that will take part in CAA African Championships in Mauritius from 8-12 June.
It's a moment of pride for the 27-year old from Katlehong who has had to wait some time before donning the green and gold for the first time. But it is perhaps unsurprising that it has taken Dhlamini more time than most to become an international athlete because his is a discipline that requires years to perfect and spending a few years without a coach, while coaching himself no doubt cost the University of Johannesburg student valuable time.
"I started hurdling in grade 4. Because in my grade in primary school I was the fastest, so jumping to the hurdles wasn't difficult because I had the raw speed. During my first year in 2015 I did the 110m hurdles and I got a silver medal at the CGA Champs. I remember at UJ they assigned me a coach but my classes would usually clash with his training time so I could never train with him. So because at the time I didn't have a stable coach, I decided to focus on the 400m hurdles because they were less technically demanding," explained the UJ Masters student.
The decision which some suggested may have been the wrong one, has begun to bear fruit in 2022. Dhalmini broke 50 seconds for the first time when he won an Athletics Gauteng North League meeting in 49.89 in March. In April, he ran the second fastest time of his career when he clocked 50.60 to finish third in the ASA Grand Prix Meet in Potchefstroom and then reached the final at the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships in Cape Town two weeks later. An example of better late than never, Dhlamini says he has the Katlehong Athletic Club to thank for sticking by him through the tough times.
"Katlehong has played a great role in my career because if it wasn't for them I wouldn't be where I am. During my undergrad year I used to stay at home, so when I couldn't afford to go to training at UJ because it was taxing KAC helped me by giving me facilities and not making me pay. Even now, I'm actually not registered to them as an athlete but I have access to the field and the grounds and the hurdles at the Huntersfield Stadium," said the man from the Ekurhuleni township.
Those who have supported the dreadlocked hurdler will surely cheer him like he were Karsten Warholm. But with Soks Zazini in the team, Dhlamini is an outsider at best to even qualify for the final in his event. So what does he have to offer? "I wanna show the township kid - someone growing up in Vosloorus, Katlehong or Soweto that it's actually possible. Just because you come from a place where sport is not taken seriously or people make fun of you because you're not a soccer player doesn't mean you can't do it. In Mauritius my primary goal is to go 49 again because this season I've only ran one 49 second race. My main goal is to go 49 low, or even a 48 and get a World Championship qualifier would be great," he concluded.