Triathlete eyes world event spot

Siyabulela Jabu Mpengesi was the first previously disadvantaged athlete to obtain a third-place finish in the Standard Bank 5150 held in Nelson Mandela Bay
Picture: Brian Witbooi

Nelson Mandela Bay triathlete Siyabulela “Jabu” Mpengesi could become the first black African to compete in the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Port Elizabeth next year.

However, engineer Mpengesi, 35, knows the road to qualification will not be easy and he will have to put in the work if he is to feature in the September showpiece. “That is my biggest goal, to qualify for the Ironman world championships in the Bay next year,” he said.

In the lead-up to the event, Mpengesi will participate in both the East London and Durban Ironman 70.3 events while also aiming to have a run at the Ironman Africa championships.

Having participated and completed various Ironman races, including the full Ironman Africa championships and a number of 70.3 races, and also participating in the 70.3 world championships in Clearwater, Florida, in 2008, Mpengesi said participating in the world championships on home soil would be the cherry on top.

A strong performance helped him finish third in the 35 to 39 age group and 20th overall at the Standard Bank 5150 African triathlon series held in the Bay at the beginning of the month, completing the event in a time of two hours, 24 minutes and 28 seconds.

“For me this was a great achievement, because I never thought it was possible. I have been racing for many years and I have never managed to achieve a podium finish, but this proved to me that anything is possible with a little belief,” he said.

Born and raised in the Eastern Cape town of Middeldrift, Mpengesi was introduced to triathlon as a student at the former PE Technikon.

“I used to play soccer, and was later introduced to the running club thanks to a few students who were also at the university at the time,” he said.

Receiving encouragement from friends and a pastor who loaned him a bicycle, Mpengesi participated in his first triathlon in September 2002.

Mpengesi was one of the first athletes, under the guidance of Ironman operations director Paul Wolff, to be drafted into the Siyaphambili Triathlon Participation development programme in 2002-3, which was aimed at giving previously disadvantaged athletes a window into the sport.

Asked what motivated him, he said, “Being an active person and enjoying a challenge, I would say that was my main thing, but more so, I saw that not many black people were participating in the sport, and I felt this needed to change.”

Mpengesi said the sport had taught him many things, one of the most important lessons being discipline.

“The friendships I have made through the sport is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

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