Ultra-distance star runner Bongmusa Mthembu has called on the SA sporting community to show more support for the country’s top athletes.
While SA’s biggest ultra-marathons – the 56km Two Oceans, in Cape Town, and the 87km Comrades, in KwaZulu-Natal – remained the largest events of their kind in the world, Mthembu felt sporadic media coverage and a shortage of development programmes were hampering the progress of the sport.
Foreign athletes have dominated the Comrades for a number of years since prize money was introduced in 1995. But SA male runners have won the last six races – with Mthembu bagging his second Comrades title yesterday.
With ultra-distance runners generally competing only twice a year, however, he claimed the press should make more of an attempt to stay in touch with the runners and report on them between races.
“You guys will arrive or phone me the Friday before a race, and you expect to know about us and how we are preparing,” Mthembu said, addressing a post-race media conference.
“I start training on December 1. Call me then, and you’ll know what I’m doing and what I’ve done. We want to be treated the way you treat soccer, rugby and cricket players,” he said.
Mthembu, who won the 2013 Comrades and earned a silver medal in the 100km World Championships in Los Alcazares last year, called for improved development structures for ultra-distance runners.
He said there was an abundance of untapped talent in rural areas, citing various successful athletes as examples.
Mthembu himself was raised in a rural village in KwaZulu-Natal. “It’s just a matter of showing them how to train,” he said.