'Our country is rich with talent' - Mtolo praises Harry Gwala Municipality for backing rural running
South African road running legend Willie Mtolo believes that spreading athletics events to the rural areas will help the country to discover more talented athletes that are short of opportunities. The top runner turned coach says many promising young rural runners do not have the funds to travel to cities to attend races which slows their development. It is for that reason that Mtolo has applauded the Harry Gwala District Municipality from where he hails for trying to close gap for the benefit of under-resourced athletes.
Each year, this Municipality stages the Harry Gwala Marathon which is run between Highflats and Umzikhulu on the rural South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. The eighth edition of the 42,2km race takes place on Sunday on 14 May and carries a prize money of R50 000 for both the male and female winners. The Comrades Marathon multiple gold medalist argues that runners from rural communities generally don't get enough quality competition opportunities which makes it difficult for them to either shine and be scouted by the professional clubs.
" Firstly, I'm happy with the way the Municipality has managed to stage the race for the community. This race belongs to them because they are short of the opportunities," explains the 1992 New York Marathon champion.
"Remember, athletics is fighting with soccer in terms of the funding. It is not as popular as some other sports, so for the Municipality to stick with us as the athletes for all these years means a lot. I hope the race grows bigger as we have seen good athletes across the country coming to race here," said the Entiska Athletic Club coach.
With the Harry Gwala District having produced some of the country's best athletes in Bongumusa Mthembu, Thobani Chagwe and Jenet Mbhele - there is hope that even more can top runners can be unearthed on the South Coast. The 59-year-old Mtolo says Municipality can't do job alone.
" We need more of these events in our area. In order for that to happen, our athletics bodies along with sponsors must combine to make it happen. Another thing, the coaches in the rural areas don't have the skills and certificates to train the athletes to the highest level. Those are some of the aspects we need to tackle in order to succeed. Our country is rich with the talent but we must unite to solve these problems."