'You need to be focussed' - Mhlakwana as Hollywoodbets AC unveils 15 new elite runners.
Nkosikhona Mhlakwana is aware that the pressure is on him to deliver now that he has joined the Hollywoodbets Athletic Club. The man affectionately known as The Pitbull was one of 15 top runners unveiled by the purple brand at the Kings Park Stadium in Durban yesterday as they officially launched their elite squad for 2022. 2018 Comrades Marathon Ann Ashworth and Mhlakwana who finished 11th in his debut Comrades in 2019 were the most recognizable names from whom much will be expected this year.
"The club has grown tremendously since it started in 2016," said club President Morgan Shandu in conversation with #TheTopRunner after the launch. "We initially started as a club for social runners based on a refreshment table we had the Comrades Marathon. People came to me and said why don't we start a club. So I sat down with Greg (Glosop) and asked him to start the process," he explained.
What started out as just a handful of about 30 social runners at the office has grown into a club that had over 1000 runners in KZN in 2019. Although the lockdown saw those numbers dwindle the reopening of road races in the latter half of 2021 in particular, has led to a resurgence in that growth in club runners leaving Hollywoodbets Athletic Club ready to recruit more members across the country while packing more elite punch in 2022.
"We have the love for sport. We are a sport betting company so whatever revenue we make, it comes from the community so we felt it is the right way of giving back to the community. We were mainly focussed on social runners but we feel it is time to take it to the next level and see the purple coming in the top 5 or top 10 of some of the big races like Comrades and Two Oceans," said Shandu who is himself a Comrades Marathon finisher.
That statement will come as a warning to Mhlakwana who dramatically missed out on gold in 2019 after his legs turned to jelly just 500m before the tape and he wobbled across the finishing straight in 9th place only to be passed by two runners and end up in 11th - to miss a gold medal by one position. But the 28-year old from Howick has learned from that experience saying his main goal is to improve on that 5 hours 53 minutes and 22 seconds finish and he'll consider it a job well done for his new club.
"The form is looking good, I don't wanna lie. I just broke a 10-year old record at the PDAC 25km (1:15:26). So I'm very happy. I can say there's a lot of pressure on me. I need to improve on my times that I'm running. You need to be focussed. I'm a solo man being guided by Prodigal Kumalo. I'm happy to be part of the Hollywoodbets Athletic Club and I ned to take this as a great opportunity and I pray to God that everything will happen the way it should," said the man who won the Prinze Mangosuthu Buthelezi's 52km race in Inquthu, Dundee last September.
In addition to to Mhlakwana and Ashworth, Hollywwodbets AC have also signed Collen Mulaudzi, Reghen Magwai, Rantso Mokopane, Sikhumbuzo Seme, Loveness Madziva, Thulisang Khambule, Makhosazana Mhlongo, Nontokozo Mkhize, Mahlomola Sekhonyana, Nkosinathi Duma, Thobani Chagwe and Tshiamo Maribe while Prodigal Kumalo is the team captain.