The year 2021 will go down as the best year in SA prominent road runner Mbuleli Mathanga’s career, according to his coach Mdu Khumalo.
Mathanga, 28, won two national titles in the 10,000m (29:23:74)) in the SA senior track and field championships in Tshwane and the SA cross country 10km title (31:00) in Durban.
On Saturday, Mathanga finished fifth at the Khobar half-marathon race in Saudi Arabia, clocking 1:04:02 in a field which included a strong East African contingent.
Kilimo Rhonzas of Kenya won the race at 1:02:04, while the three places went to other Kenyans.
Mdu and teammates from the Phantane Athletics Club welcomed him back at the King Shaka International Airport from Saudi Arabia yesterday.
Khumalo has big plans for Mathanga that include running a debut marathon and participating in the 10,000m in the World Championships in the USA next year.
“We are proud of the boy. He did well during difficult conditions with the wind and hot weather in the half-marathon. The Kenyans are strong and four of them finished ahead of him but he managed to finish ahead of two and secured a top ten finish. We are happy with the time and his performance. He earned a few cents by finishing the race in the top ten,” Khumalo told Sowetan yesterday.
Khumalo said rubbing shoulders with the top runners over the 21.1km distance would help him become a better runner in the future.
“He understands the culture of the East African runners. With better training and preparations, next year he will achieve bigger than this. It is his best season. Next year the boy will be on another level, and he will achieve more,” he said.
“We are planning to venture into a marathon, and we have lined up a couple of races for him next year. The goal is to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France, in the marathon.”