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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'We just want the vision to continue' - EPA & NMB celebrate a decade of Legacy Project success

While most people in the South African running community know much about the Nelson Mandela Bay Half Marathon, less is known about the NMB Legacy Project of which the annual 21km race is the jewel in the crown. The Legacy Project is a partnership between Eastern Province Athletics (EPA) and the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which took its first steps in 2011 when the Eastern Cape Metropolitan Municipality partnered with Ikhamva Athletics Club for the Motherwell Freedom Run. Then in 2014 Mike Mbambani and his business partner, Alan Taylor, launched their dream road race, the Nelson Mandela Bay 21km, which was initiated after brainstorming about what they could do in the Bay to attract national and international top runners.

"You go to Gauteng and there's Soweto (Marathon). You go to Comrades and there's Comrades. So it was a case of we have got this history here, let's use it. In 1986 when Zithulele Zinqe ran 2:08:04 and broke down Willie Mtolo in the last 2km I was there and I was watching what was happening. But the running faded and then Alec (Riddle) came back with Maxed Africa. MAxed Africa was actually the best project for EP. But when Alec quit, everything felt flat. So we started it on our own with Alan in 2014 and it was the richest half half marathon in South Africa and it was won by Elroy Gelant on a windy 14th of November," Mbambani explained.

The aim of the Legacy developmental project is to uplift our city’s sport administrators, clubs and athletes. Both the Cross Country and Track & Field Series have enjoyed growing support each year from both schools and clubs. The ASA Cross Country Championships will be held at NMU in Gqeberha on Saturday, 16 September. Photo Credit: EPA Media.

After the success of the race's first edition, former Athletics South Africa (ASA) President Aleck Skhosana approached Mbambani and Taylor for them to host the 21km ASA National Championships as part of their race. After ASA added this national status to the NMB Half Marathon, the complexion of the race changed, and discussions started with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts & Culture, which culminated in the birth of the Nelson Mandela Bay Legacy Project.

"ASA wrote us a letter to say that's the best route, the best event, with the best organisation. They said EPA the bidding is open to stage it as ASA Champs. Since 2015 this event has had national status and its the longest standing national championships in the history of athletics because every year we deliver. Then In 2016 when we got our first mega sponsor for the race we were never selfish. We said it's SA Champs and took a decision to hand it over to the federation so that it can be an ongoing event for as long as there's EP Athletics in existence. It doesn't matter if leadership changes, the main plan was for the event to go on," said the man who coaches Thabang Mosiako and Melikhaya Frans.

Mbambani celebrates with Mosiako after his milestone victory at the NMB Half Marathon which incorporated the ASA Half Marathon Championships on 3 June 2023. After guiding Melikhaya Frans to the best 42,2km performance in the country last year (2:09:24), Mbambani has been named as Athletics South Africa (ASA) Marathon coach to lead the team that will take part at the World Championships in Hungary later this month. Photo Credit: NMB Half Marathon.

Founded on the success of the NMB Half Marathon which now enjoys World Athletics Elite Label Status, the Legacy Project has grown to include seven road running events annually reaching a number of areas in the metropole namely: Motherwell; Gelvandale; Colchester; Uitenhage/Despatch and Summerstrand. The Project is also used as a vehicle to increase the number of qualified coaches and officials from previously disadvantaged areas, while empowering and motivated teachers to encourage youth to participation in athletics. And Mbambani says the goal is to keep on improving.

"We want to grow the status of the NMB Half Marathon. If we have to be the first Platinum World Athletics race in Africa then that can be done because we are actually the first country as South Africa and the first city as Gqeberha to host two Elite Label Status events in one year on the African continent. We are not interested in making history, we just want the vision to continue and leave a legacy."

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