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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

Phalula gives up on Tokyo 2021, says she's had enough of ASA.

Prominent South African roadrunner Lebo Phalula has aborted her plans to qualify for the Olympic Games because of Athletics South Africa's behaviour. She said she is fed-up with the ASA's stop-start approach to the 2021 athletics season. The first black woman to represent the country in an Olympic marathon got pumped up for the new season, but the sudden suspension of the races by the mother body made her lose her hunger for the Olympics.

Phalula wins the Hezekiel Sepeng 10km Legacy Run before Covid-19 hit SA. Photo Credit: Hezekiel Sepeng.

"I am no longer interested in qualifying for the Olympics because of this stop-start approach by ASA. I have lost interest in the Olympics. When you are in the mood to qualify for the Olympics, races suddenly get suspended, and I have decided that enough is enough. But I am happy to take part in other road running events and I want to help my sister to qualify," said a furious Phalula.

Like many athletes, the one half of the Phalula twins has been left frustrated by the suspension of races by ASA. Two weeks ago, the federation postponed all races due to the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic that had gripped the nation with president Aleck Skhosana saying the call had to be made in order to save lives. ASA will review its decision to suspend events on Sunday, and many are hoping that races will be reopened again after President Cyril Ramaphosa eased the lockdown restrictions on Monday night.

The Phalula twins in action during the Spar Ladies 10km Grand Prix Series. Photo Credit: Bruce Davidson.

Phalula's husband Gladwin Mzazi has also been vocal about the suspension of races. He blasted ASA for refusing to allow elite only athletes to compete under strict Covid-19 regulations while other professional sport continues around the country. And Phalula is concerned about the silence of other top runners on a matter that affects them all. "Why are the other runners quiet. Gladwin is speaking on behalf of all the athletes. I am on his side on this one and stand by what he said about the suspension of races," said Mzazi's supportive wife and fellow elite athlete.

While they await the federation's decision, Lebo and her twin sister Lebogang continue with their training, and she is determined to help her sister to book her spot on the flight to Japan. At the end of 2019, they attended a six-month training camp in Ethiopia but were forced to rush back home when President Cyril Ramphosa announced the lockdown in March 2020. "I was in bad condition after giving birth, and the camp helped to knock me back into shape. But lockdown happened, and we were forced to return home," she explains.

"It is difficult being a female athlete when you fall pregnant you have to work to regain your fitness. You have to be a mother, wife, and an athlete all at the same time," she said. Lebo said she gave birth through C-section, and without a training program, it would not have been easy for her to bounce back. "Most female runners do not get back on their feet after giving birth. That is one of the big challenges that we face as female athletes," she said.

Phalula, compatriot Christine Kalmer and Zimbabwe's Rutendo Nyahora embrace after completing the Rio 2016 Olympic Marathon. Photo Credit: Unknown.

The mother of the three-year-old daughter named told #TheTopRunner that she misses running and has worked extra hard to regain her fitness. The Rio 2016 Olympian enjoys morning jogs with her husband and says being married to an athlete makes it easier for her career to thrive as they have one thing in common. "I am enjoying marriage and my running career. I have a beautiful daughter and a loving husband. But I miss running, and I'm itching to take part in competitive road running again." said Phalula who won the senior women's 10km race (37:28) at the Central Gauteng Cross Country trials in January.

Phalula en route to winning the CGA Cross Country trails in Kagiso last month. Photo Credit: Donald Mathipa.

But the difficulties of being a South African elite athlete during a pandemic have been made more bearable by the thoughtfulness of her loving hubby. " I'm lucky that I have a partner who is also an athlete. He understands the struggles that I go through as a runner. He helps around the house and jogs with me daily," said the smiling former SA 1500m champion. Although Mzazi paid lobola, Lebo is waiting for him to deliver on his promise and walk her down the aisle.

Phalula poses for a photo with her husband Gladwin Mzazi at the Central Gauteng Athletics Awards. Photo Credit: Gladwin Mzazi.

She says Mzazi is a romantic at heart and loves cooking for her after a long day. "Traditionally, he has done everything, but I am still waiting for him to give me my dream white wedding. He is an understanding partner and helps me when I am tired," said Lebo.

Lebo and Gladwin are grateful for the monthly stipend they receive from the Boxer Running Club. It helps them put food on the table. "2020 was a disaster. I hope that 2021 will bring us more joy than sadness. We lost a lot of income, and we have to recover it this year," she added.

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