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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

Sibiya's SA 4km Cross Country title highlights gains made by KZNA Newcastle Academy

When KwaZulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA) returned with just one medal from the 2011 South African Track & Field Championship, it was a wake up call. Those disappointing results led to collective introspection which resulted in the emergence of Sello Mokoena as KZNA President in 2012 after he won a highly contested election. One of the first things that Mokoena's administration did was to setup an academy to start developing the next generation of KZN top runners.

"Before I entered the office, I knew what I wanted so I had everything planned out. For the sport to grow, it needs a strong foundation base at grassroots level. That is when I started to think of having an academy so that youngsters will get proper coaching to excel in the sport. So the next step was to get more knowledge about it to build a project we are familiar with," Mokoena explained.

Sello Mokoena (back) poses with coach Michael Seme (back right) and the youngsters of the KZNA Academy who include Nkosinthai Sibiya and Cacisile Sosibo. Photo Credit: Supplied.

The first step toward creating a KZN Academy was bringing the brightest and sharpest athletics minds into one room. Mokoena organized a Global Athletics Conference where delegates from global athletics powerhouses like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Jamaica were present. The event also had special guests including two former World Marathon record holders Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang. With the knowledge collected and a venue secured in Newcastle funding was obtained from the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sports and Recreation and the National Lottery. Renowned athletics coach Michael 'Sponge' Seme known for coaching the likes of Stephen Mokoka, Caster Semenya, and Gladwin Mzazi was roped in to head up the program.

1992 New York Marathon Champion Willie Mtolo poses with Berlin Marathon champions and former World Record holders Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang of Kenya at an athletics conference held in KZN which was the precursor to the academy. Photo Credit: Supplied.

"It was more of a homecoming for me. All these years as the athletics coach, I never had a chance in my province," said Seme, who was born in Osizweni, a Township in Newcastle where the Academy was situated. "I'm a firm believer that most great runners are to be found in the more rural areas. Plus I had done a similar job before (at Tuks) so I wasn't going to find it hard to adapt and produce results."

And that's precisely what Seme did. After starting with them as juniors at the KZN Academy, Seme moulded the likes of Tshiamo Maribe, Cacisile Sosibo and Nkosinathi Sibiya into some of the countries finest athletes. Sibiya, who was born and raised in Osizweni, has gone on to become a three-time SA 1500m Champion and on Saturday he won the Athletics South Africa senior men's 4km cross country title. Sibiya credits Seme and the academy for his athletic success.

"The program played a significant role in my athletics career. The coaching we received from there made us realize that we were going somewhere. The important factor too was getting competition and opportunities in our communities. For me who grew up in an area with limited resources, it was an ideal project. I managed to grow out of it which made me the person I am today. So It was a nice concept which I think was going to take our sport into places," emphasizes Sibiya, who is now also an athletics coach at the University of Johannesburg.

One of the products of the KZNA Academy, Nkosinathi SIbiya won the senior men's 4km title at the National Cross Country Championships in Gqeberha on Saturday 16 September. Photo Credit: ASA Media.

Even though the project was later shut down amid a cloud when KZNA was put under administration in 2019, the results are evident in the form of the top runners that it produced. Seme believes that these types of athletics development project where promising youngsters are identified and later channeled into high performance coaching, is what is needed to bridge when talented young athletes have to be moulded into top runners. "The difficulty we are facing as a country is money. To run a similar structure you need money in order to get the results. We've got the talent that can take us places. So I was impressed with the work we managed to do in a short space of time. The likes of Cacisile Sosibo, and Nkosinathi Sibiya are just a few athletes who benefited from that program. But we need to do more than that," he said.

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