JOHANNESBURG - South Africa’s success at the last two editions of the IAU World 100km Championships with minimal preparations has prompted Athletics SA (ASA) to invest more time, effort and money in the ultra-distance event.
The national team spearheaded by three-time Comrades winner Bong'musa Mthembu touched down in SA yesterday with three medals in the bag from the weekend’s world 100km Championships in Sveti, Croatia.
Mthembu was the pick of the South Africans, winning the individual bronze medal and adding to the silver from two years ago. Both the men and women’s squads returned from the gruelling ultra-distance event with silver medals in the team categories.
“We knew we could win a medal in the individual and the team competition for the men while we believed the women had a good chance of winning a team medal,” said team coach Nick Bester. “Bong’musa led for a couple of laps and to hang in there shows his fighting spirit. At one point I thought we have trouble today, but his pride kept him going and he got the bronze medal.”
Mthembu believed he did better than at the previous championships, but his efforts to claim the gold were thwarted by stomach cramps over the final 10 or so kilometres. Defending champion Hideaki Yamauchi of Japan pounced as Mthembu started losing steam to claim the title in a time of 6hr 28min 05sec. He was followed by compatriot Takehiko Gyoba in second place in 6:32:51, while Mthembu finished third in 6:33:47.
“You could see I was their target, every time I slowed they would do the same and when I pushed the pace they would also push the pace,” Mthembu said. “At the end of the day I got the podium and I was really excited. I thought of stopping due to the stomach cramps and I had Salome Cooper just behind me encouraging me not to stop.”
Mthembu’s gutsy run helped SA to the men’s team silver medal adding to the title they won two years ago. The three fastest SA athletes clocked a combined time of 20:33:49 with Japan also winning the team prize with a time of 19:37:01.
Mthembu called for a lengthier build-up where the team could train together even if it was for a month ahead of the championships. The team was announced after the Comrades Marathon and the athletes trained on their own in preparation for the event.
“It would be important for us to train as a team for six or 10 months. Even a week for those who are running Comrades,” Mthembu said. “I think my coach Xolani Mabhida has done really well to prepare me after Comrades.”
ASA road running chair James Moloi vowed that they would get the inputs from athletes on how they can make the step-up ahead of the next championships.