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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'The plan is to establish a foundation that will look after this race' - Mathipa on Thembisa Mile

That even a photo finish couldn't separate Ryan Mphahlele and Elvis Mokhonoana after a frenetic 1600m race through the streets of Thembisa, tells you how badly both men wanted to be crowned champion of the 2022 SPAR Thembisa Street Mile. Boasting one of the best middle distance fields assembled in South Africa this year including reigning national 1500m champion Nkosinathi Sibiya, much was expected from the event which took place on Sunday 30 October. In the end it was Mokhonoana and Mphahlele who bested Sibiya and national 800m champion Tshepo Tshite.

Dipping for the line alongside the course record holder Mphahlele in 4:01 at the finish outside the Moses Molelekwa Arts Centre in South Africa's second biggest township, Mokhonoana's performance would have surprised some. But those close to the sport will know just how much a winning the SPAR Thembisa Street Mile meant to the 24-year-old. You see even though he now trains in Pretoria under the watchful eye of renowned middle distance coach Samuel Sepeng alongside Tshepo Tshite, Mokhonoana's running career developed in Thembisa where he attended the Thembisa Athletics Club December training camps.

Mphahlele in the orange of the University of Johannesburg and Mokhonoana in the blue of Masai Athletics Club not prepared to give an inch in a thrilling finish at the SPAR Thembisa Street Mile. Photo Credit: Steward photography.

In fact during many of those camps he trained with Mphahlele who having been developed in Thembisa by coach Elvis Khoza, went on to become the 2019 1500m national champion and represent the country at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games a few months ago. Developing world class talent in Thembisa is the brainchild of Donald Mathipa, who explains that this is one of the main reasons why the elite mile and accompanying 10km race takes place each year - to fund the development of future champions.

"The plan here is to make sure that we establish a foundation that will be looking after this race and make sure that we are able to distribute the proceeds of this race to legitimate charity organisations in Thembisa. Thank you to SPAR because even at the peak of the Covid19 pandemic we were able to distribute 320 food packs to Thembisa Child and Welfare. For this year's event we are aiming to raise R30 000 for Thembisa Athletics Club activities. We have got kids. Parents just drop them and say take care of those kids. How those kids get to races, we have to make some plans. Managing a development club is expensive. " he said.

A stacked field as Mokhonoana and Sibiya at the rear, chase down Mphahlele and Tshite who lead the last 100m of the 2022 SPAR Thembisa Street Mile. Photo Credit: SmacPix.

The roughly 1700 participants who enjoyed the #RunningParty through the streets of Thembisa on Sunday will not only have revelled in the experience of running one of the best township races in South Africa, but they will also know that their participation will contribute in some small way to producing the next Mphahlele and Mokhonoana. Mathipa's work in building this event from humble beginnings as an 8km Fun Run over a decade ago to the current event which has hosted the likes of Olympic and World Championship medalists such as Caster Semenya and Johan Cronje deserves much praise.

In the women's elite mile, Prudence Sekgodišo stamped her authority on the event as she underlined her status as by far and away the best female middle distance athlete of the current generation. The reigning 800m and 1500m SA Champion won in 4:45 with Janie Janse van Rensburg taking the runner-up spot in 4:56, while Charne Swart was third (4:57). The men's 10km saw a breakthrough win for Chris Mhlanga (30:14) who beat national 5000m record holder Elroy Gelant into second (30:20), while Simon Sibeko was third (30:32).

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