JOHANNESBURG – Xolani Mabhida is a 'glass is half full' kind of guy. It is because of his positive outlook on life that he is in no doubt that he will once again be referred to as “the champion’s coach” by Sunday noon.
Mabhida is Bongmusa Mthembu’s coach and ahead of the 94th running of the Comrades Marathon, the general consensus is that Mthembu has no chance of winning a fourth title after claiming the Two Oceans Marathon crown in April.
That only one man has won the country’s major ultra-marathons in the same year has just about everyone ruling out Mthembu’s chances of a Comrades hat-trick.
Mabhida is way too positive to be bothered by such talk.
“I will not entertain negative things,” says the 30-year-old former athlete who is now a Level 3 coach. “People should be asking themselves why is it that the 'double' has not been won and finding out ways to change that. I know why - it is because runners race Two Oceans.”
So, what was Mthembu doing finishing ahead of everyone in the 56km Easter classic?
“Two Oceans was a time trial for us. We did what we always do - exactly what we did last year when he finished third,” Mabhida said.
“This year he was first because of that route (Ou Kaapse Weg). We knew we would win the moment they changed the route. Bongmusa did not race Two Oceans. At the finish line he was still very relaxed and talking. He did not even lie down and he went for a recovery run afterwards. So we continued with our preparations after that and we have succeeded in everything.”
Mabhida has been with Mthembu since 2016 and says his athlete is in better form and shape than he was when he won the Up Run in 2017.
“He is 4kg lighter than he was in 2017. He is very lean and his muscles are light, so he will climb those hills with ease. Unlike two years ago when he had flu before the race, he has been very healthy this time.
“We were under pressure back then because he had never won the Up Run and people were also questioning my credentials of being his coach. But we knew he had what it takes and it is because we had worked on our mental strength.”
That much they proved by not only winning the Up Run but by going on to add last year’s Down Run title to the one Mthembu won in 2014.
Even five years ago, Mabhida played a part in Mthembu’s success.
“We have always been close. Even though I was not his coach, I assisted him with his speed work and made him aware that he needed to work on fixing his upper body so that it aligned with his lower.”
Mabhida studied coaching science and says that while many coaches focus solely on training their athletes, he goes the whole nine yards for his charges.
“I have produced the stars I have because my focus is on coaching science and not just coaching. For Bongmusa, I make sure I know all there is to know to get him ready on top of understanding everything about him as an athlete.”
So Mabhida is unfazed by the view that his athlete will not win again on Sunday.@Tshiliboy