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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

Nzima in a race against time to qualify for Tokyo 2021

Sibusiso Nzima is in a race against time in his bid to qualify for the Olympic Games. When the Nedbank Running Club athlete blew out the 34 candles on his birthday cake last week, all he wished for was a spot in Team SA in Tokyo, Japan, next year. He shared this wish at a romantic dinner with his wife and fellow runner Rutendo Nyahora, who herself represented Zimbabwe over 42,2km in Brazil four years ago.

Nzima in action at the 2016 FNB Joburg 10k City Run where he finished on the podium behind winner Namakoe Nkhasi of Lesotho (B320). Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg - Stillwater Sports

As things stand Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant, and Desmond Mokgobu have met the qualifying criteria and therefore hold the three men's marathon spots in Athletics South Africa's Olympic preparation squad. But ASA president Aleck Skhosana said the door is not closed to anyone that is still working towards making the final team. The men’s marathon qualifying criteria is 2:11:30, and Nzima’s personal best is 2:11:45.

The man who represented the country in the marathon at Rio 2016, was supposed to run in the Vienna Marathon in Austria in April, but the Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to those plans. The 2020 Cape Town Marathon was also canceled due and overseas international invites are increasingly hard to come by, which means opportunities to qualify are running out. Nzima is hoping against hope to secure an entry into an overseas marathon to race in January or February.

Nzima in action at Rio 2016 flanked by eventual gold medal winner Eluid Kipchoge of Kenya.

“The time is not on my side, and I am getting worried. The races in Europe invite 20 men and 20 women, and they do that based on your time. I struggle to sleep at night when I think about the Olympics because I know that I have to be there,” said a worried Nzima. whose solution has been to increase his workload in training. "I trained once a day, but now I am training twice a day. I won’t be running this year as I am saving myself for a full marathon. I got invited to the Nelson Mandela Remembrance race on 6 December, but it is too soon for me. I rather work on my fitness and hope to run abroad. I believe that I can still make the top three to qualify. I have to work hard and challenge myself,” he said.

Nzima with his wife Rutendo Nyahora (herself an elite athlete) were married last year.

Nzima will be an official at the Enoch Skhosana race on Saturday, but will not run the race. “I am working on my fitness and doing the basics,” he added. Nzima is grateful for the monthly retainer that he gets from his running club, as it helps him to support his family. Having also been part of the 2015 World Championships team, the former SA 10km champion is experienced enough to know what it takes to compete at the highest level. He still feels that he needs a coach though because he currently doesn't have one and works with his training partner Philani Buthelezi. “I hope to get a coach next year, and currently work alone. I discuss my training routine with Philani, and we work well together. I want to work hard so that I can fulfil my dreams of going to Japan. I would trade anything so that I can go to the Olympics,” said Nzima.

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