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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Mphahlele says Mashele inspired him as he prepares to qualify for Oregon 2022 World Champs 1500m

Ryan Mphahelele says in qualifying for the Olympic Games on home soil, Precious Mashele inspired up and coming locally-based athletes by showing them that middle distance runners do not necessarily have to go to Europe to run qualifying times for major championships. The 1500m and 5 000m man was one of a few top runners who were enlisted by Athletics South Africa to pace Mashele to the 13:11.65 5 000m effort that saw him book his spot at #Tokyo2021 on the very last day of the qualification window.

Mphahlele is embraced by race organizer Donald Mathipa after winning the 2018 Thembisa Street Mile. Photo Credit: SmacPix.

"To be honest I was really inspired by him qualifying for the Olympics for the 5 000m race because I felt like if he could do it, then I could do it. I was really happy for him and it also gave me the confidence that approaching the World Championships next year in Oregon, I could make the team as well. Because if he can chase down a qualifying time like that here in South Africa (he didn't have to go overseas to do it) so for me to qualify for the 1500m, I could do the same thing," said the 23-year old from Thembisa.

After winning the 2019 SA 1500m title, big things were expected of Mphahlele but injury and poor form conspired against him as he failed to qualify for the World Championships in Doha later that year. But the start of the Covid19 lockdown in March 2020 gave him some perspective as he used the break in the season to spend time with the legendary Ian Harries who famously coached Olympic silver medalist and 800m World Champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi.

Mphahlele (outside) and Nkosinathi Sibiya pacing Mashele (back) to Olympic qualification. Photo Credit: Cuan Walker.

"Obviously it has been one helluva of a rollercoaster and it has been a challenge," he told #TheTopRunner when asked about life as an elite athlete during the lockdown. "But I saw it as an opportunity to conquer the challenge and take whatever comes and improvise. Now I can focus on the future and try and be a better athlete. I even spent some time in the Vaal with Ian Harries. I've learnt a lot from him and trust me, my energy and his and coach Elvis (Khoza) rubs off really positively," said the reigning Central Gauteng Athletics 4km Cross Country champion.

So Mphahlele's task is clear - to become the first Thembisa-born athlete to represent the country and the World Championships and Olympic Games. And he is proud to be putting South Africa's second largest township on the athletics map, which was underlined when he won the 2018 Thembisa Street Mile less than two months after winning the national cross country title.

"The Thembisa Mile is hosted in my home, in my hood, where I was born so obviously winning it for the first time felt really great and I couldn't ask for any better feeling. I think what must be done for us to have more great athletes from Thembisa is to give more opportunities to young athletes in schools because that's where the talent is. Not just during the athletics season but throughout the year, so coaches like my coach (Khoza) can identify that talent," he concluded. After a Covid-enforced break last year, The Thembisa Street Mile returns on Sunday, 31 October 2021 where Mphahlele will aim to become the first athlete to break the historic sub four minutes on the event race route.

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