'There's nothing that you cannot achieve if you are determined' - Tebogo Masehla
As we look ahead to the World Championships which get underway in the Hungarian city of Budapest on the 19th of August, local middle distance fans will once again have to make peace with the fact that the country will not be represented in the steeplechase events. While the likes of Rantso Mokopane, Dikotsi Lekopa and Tumisang Monnatlala have donned the green and gold on the highest stage athletics stage within the last decade, you have to go back to 2007 to find the woman to run the event for South Africa at the World Champs. Her name is Tebogo Masehla and she is concerned.
"From my own observation, we have a serious problem," said the woman's whose 9:54.19 national record has stood since 2011. "I don't know if i should say it's a lack of athletes or lack of coaching. Something is seriously lacking in 3000m steeplechase. And it's not only for women but for men as well because just to qualify for the World Championships you have to run way, way under the national record. So there's a lot of work to be done and a long way to go, but I'm hoping that at least in the near future we can have someone that can break ten minutes," she told #TheTopRunner.
For perspective, only three South African women in Masehla, Nolene Conrad (9:54.42) and Angela Wagner (9:58.68) have ever broken ten minutes in a discipline where the current World Championships qualification standard requires a performance of 9:23.00. The seven-time SA Champion, who also earned the bronze medal at the 2004 African Championships suggests that it will be a while before we see another female SA steeplechaser on the global stage.
"For the next three, four, five years no one is gonna qualify for the event because the qualifying is 9:23 and the record is 9:54 which gives you an idea of the gap between us and the rest of the world. It's a subject that's very close to my heart. I am on a mission in terms of development, in terms of giving back especially in the steeplechase. It's a dream and a vision that I have, and I'm working on it. I'm hoping that one day somebody that can break that record (SA), will be somebody that will be coached by me," laughed the woman who was coached by former Vorentoe High School principal Hans Saestad during her years of dominance.
That process of unearthing the next generation of Mzansi steeplechasers has already begun. On Saturday 5 August, the woman who hails from the Vaal will host her inaugural race. Taking place at the Vaal University of Technology Stadium and hosted by the Top Runner Athletics Club, the Tebogo Masehla Legendary Race incorporates a 10km, 5km fun run as well as a novel 3000m women's challenge. Now 43-years-old, the woman who finished in fifth place at the 2005 World University Games is hoping to use the 3000m as a talent identification vehicle and has these pearls of wisdom for any young girls who are looking to follow in her fast footsteps.
"There's nothing that you cannot achieve if you are determined. It takes a lot of sacrifice. You have to be away from your family and there were times when I even had to take unpaid leave when I was working. So there are just a lot of sacrifices, but at the end of the day there's an end goal. But if it wasn't for those sacrifices you wouldn't achieve your goals."