'We must look to the rural areas' says Ruben Ramolefi as SA fails to produce Olympic steeplechasers
For the past three Olympics Games, South Africa has failed to produce an athlete to represent the country in the 3000m steeplechase. Ruben Ramolefi, who represented the country into two Olympics games at Athens in 2004 and Beijing 2008, is the last athlete to manage to qualify for the discipline. Only Ramolefi and Shadrack Mogotsi have ever represented Team SA in the an Olympic steeplechase race. SA's undisputed steeplechase king believes the athletes who take on this gruelling event generally do not have the right approach.
"It's very difficult to say the reason behind why we failed to qualify for Olympics. What I know is that our country is fully of talent," explains the 3 000m steeplechase national record holder whose 8:11.50 has stood since 2011.
" Firstly, I think athletes have to work together to achieve the qualifying standards. To come into steeplechase and think you can dominate the race from the start to finish is not easy. It's a different discipline altogether and the approach must be unique. So for athletes, it's better to workout as the team rather than as individuals. In that sense, they will be able to help each improve their times before targeting the Olympics standards. Like for instance a change of lead during the laps then maybe in the last 600m then one athlete start to go on his/her own. I know athletics is an individual sport but sometimes you have to make a sacrifice in order to obtain better results," is the philosophy of a man who won 9 consecutive national titles.
The 43-year-old Northern Cape born athlete is now focusing on coaching athletes in his area and says Athletics South Africa (ASA) must improve facilities in rural areas in order to new talent to unearth. "I'm glad you touched the development. This is another important part the federation has to invest in," says Ramolefi, who represented the country at three World Championships and also took the bronze medal at the 2006 African Championships.
"For instance, I'm come from a rural area and in my athletics days I only ran on a track once I came to Johannesburg. And how is a kid from that area going to get to practice steeplechase without proper facilities? Since I started coaching I have realized that as coaches we do it for ourselves. There is little support from outside. If federation can invest in quality facilities and identity talented upcoming athletes to undergo special program then we are destined for success." he said.