Tough competition is the key to Mathanga's success
In-form middle and long distance runner Mbuleli Mathanga believes tough competition is the secret ingredient that will propel him to greater heights. Mathanga thrilled all in attendance at the Kings Park Stadium last Friday as he set a new 10 000m KwaZulu-Natal Natal Athletics (KZNA) record of 28:24 in a race for the finish line against Precious Mashele.
The 27-year-old was the local hero in a mouth-watering line up including Olympic hopeful Mashele and Philani Buthelezi all of whom would eventually run under 29 minutes. Mashele had made the trip from his Zoo Lake Training Base in Johannesburg at altitude to sharpen up ahead of his marathon debut next month, but also to help Mathanga to a faster clocking. Although Hendrick Ramaala's athlete would go on to win the race in 28:20 which was his fastest 10 000m yet, Mathanga came a close second. The Phantane Athletics Club starlet praised his coach Mdu Khumalo for always wanting to get the best out of him, saying what transpired on the day was a result of hard work and dedication.
"I'm excited that I managed to break the record," said Mathanga in a calm voice. "What happened on the day is what we discussed with my coach before the race. He is the only person that knows how far I can go since he sets splits for us while training. I also think focusing on the training even it gets hard helps because it allows me to do well all the time."
It's no secret that Mathanga's dream is to represent the country at the Tokyo Olympics in July. However, in order to do that he would need to shave almost 50 seconds off his current personal best by running 27:28 in 10 000m. Mathanga does not think it's an impossible task, especially if he get's races with more top runners.
"I think you saw on how the likes of Mashele, Buthelezi and Pakiso Mthembu assisted me to push for the personal best," he explained. "So If we can get competitions with experienced guys, that can help me to edge closer to qualifying for the Olympics. I don't know when sub27 will come but with constant training and always giving it all on track, results will follow. And my coach is there to encourage me to excel even outside of sport."
Mdu Khumalo, who is also the founder of Phantane Athletics Club echoed his athlete's sentiments that tough competition is what he needs to realize his potential, adding that he remains grounded even with all the attention he has been receiving off-late. "I think if Mathanga can continue to run against quality athletes like he did last week then we are set for good times," said Khumalo. "The boy has a bright future and to perform well consistently he needs great assistance from other athletes to push him. I always do sessions once a week where I speak to them about life. You can see how respectful are whenever they talk to people. I don't only coach them about running, so that's why I think fame will not go his head," he told #TheTopRunner.