Rio de Janeiro – With just two days left in the Rio Paralympics, South Africa’s youngest superstar wasn’t looking too far into the future. On Thursday night, in the Olympic stadium after he had finished fifth in the 100m, he was looking at the notebook of a Chinese journalist who said he was based in South Africa had written down a series of questions and was determined to ask all of them.
He may have given the most perfect answer of all to the question, “what prompted you (to start using prostheses four years ago)?”
“I didn’t have legs,” said Mahlangu without a bit of sarcasm.
“Oh. Yeah,” nodded the journalist.
Just off to his left, a Team South Africa official were keeping a close eye on Mahlangu, as they have done all week. “He’s only 14, you know,” she told me as she strained to hear. Yes. We know. The world knows. That’s the story. A German journalist had asked him about what it felt like to be the next BladeRunner and was told to focus on his performance. China wanted the story. The 14-year old kid who learnt to walk four years ago and can run like thunder.
“Did you enjoy Rio?”
“Yes, the people were very nice, they have been great,” said Mahlangu, for whom many things are great. He is 14. He’s at the Paralympics. What’s not to like.
“Did you like today’s race?”
“It was a very nice race. I ran a 12.57, which isn’t bad, you know. It’s not far from my PB, so it was a very good race. I just need to go back and fix my start,” said Mahlangu.
“You were really fast in the second half.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he answered as succinctly as you would need to.
“You started using prostheses four years ago.”
“Yes, I did,” answered Mahlangu, before realising where the questions were going, and he spoke at length about Jumping Kids, the charity that provides prostheses for poor South African kids who need them.
Mahlangu does not believe the 100m is too short a race for him even though it takes him a while to get up to full pace as he swings his hips into rhythm. “No, it’s not too short for me. I didn’t have a great start, but I was coming back into the race. It was a very nice race. I got a silver medal in the 200m, and I’m very happy and I appreciate it.”
He would not guess at how many Paralympics he will take part in, although would like to do many if the “Almighty keeps me running all the time and looks after me… That’s what I want to do., I want to be an inspiration. That’s what I want to do. I’m doing this for my country and for my people. When I get home. I will be writing the fourth term’s exams. I haven’t missed much school this year, because my races are on weekends or on holidays. This is my first time missing school.”
And the future? Where will he go to high school and university? “I’m not sure yet where I will go. I will see.”