"You must be brave!" - Mathanga after winning Open CGA 5000m
"You must be brave!" Those were Mbuleli Mathanga's words when asked to account for his mercurial rise to the top of the local running pile. In just three years, the 28-year old KwaZulu Natal athlete has taken more than a minute off his 5 000m time (14:31.47 in 2018 to 13:29.66 in 2021), won the national 10 000m title in 2021 and become one of just a handful of South Africans to break the 61 minute barrier over the half marathon. Last night he underlined his status as the coming man when he flew up from sea level to win a stacked Boksburg Athletic Club 5000m.
"I'm very happy with this race because it was a tough race," he told #TheTopRunner shortly after destroying a field which included two Olympians (Sibusiso Nzima and Namakoe Nkasi). "I worked hard because this race was at altitude and I come from the coast. I started running 65 second laps, but then I saw that Nkasi was coming closer so I then decided to move back and run on his shoulder and kick from 600m to go," shared the man who is coached by Mdu Khumalo.
That's exactly what the KZN Athletics 10 000m record holder (28:03.45) did, out-sprinting Nkasi to take line honours in 14:07.10 as the Lesotho athlete was second in 14:08.00 and Philani Buthelezi of Murray and Roberts Running Club rounding out the podium in 14:31.13. Nzima took fourth as a total of 13 runners finished the the Open Central Gauteng Athletics Middle Distance Meet.
Asked to explain how he has been able to break through from promising athlete to top runner, the Phantane Athletics Club star gave a simple answer. "What I can say to my brothers is that running is not easy, but one must be courageous. I implore my brothers to love this thing because you can make a living out of running. They shouldn't give themselves to drugs and alcohol. Sport is important. It doesn't matter which sport the youth do, all that matters is that they stay in sport," he concluded.
Although he failed to break the 14 minute barrier which would have earned him a bonus of R250, Mathanga's performance saw him take home R1250 for the first prize in a discipline that usually doesn't pay athletes at all. Race organiser George Gundry hopes to stage more middle distance track events with better prize money in the near future. With just a men's and women's 5000m on the itinerary, Gundry says this was an ATHLETIC DEVELOPMENT MEETING whose point was to create the right conditions for athletes to run fast.
Therefore there were some concerns when lapped athletes were pulled off the track in championship style denying them the opportunity to produce personal best times thanks to the fast pace set by Mathanga and Namakoe. There were even more concerns however, with the women's race where just five athletes took part which highlights the serious lack of depth in women's distance running in SA. Only the winner Cian Oldknow managed to break 17 minutes as she ran a new PB of 16:54.25, as Cacisile Sosibo of Boxer Athletic Club took second (17:35.46) and Xcel's Rutendo Nyahora was third (18:03.50).