Luvuyo Bangazi | Bay gets ready to roll out red carpet for triathletes

April 15 is fast approaching and soon the world of triathlon will descend on Nelson Mandela Bay for the first of two visits this year.

The Ironman African Championship is one of an elite group of races with continental championship status, the only one in Africa.

With that status come many benefits to the host city, like higher-than-usual international athlete participation.

Professional athletes work similarly to professional soccer clubs, earning points from every PSL game.

The difference is that while PSL games all offer the same points, Ironman championship races offer far more points than non-championship races.

These points go towards the KONA pro athlete ranking system, which then determines who gets to race World Championships.

This also means that the host city receives the cream of the crop from the pro fields, men and woman.

Championship races are also magnets for international age groupers who come here to pick up world championship slots.

Again the difference is the bigger pool of slots available at championship races than at ordinary Ironman races. Either way Nelson Mandela Bay scores on the tourism front.

Last year, this race had nearly 800 international athletes.

This year should have an even bigger contingent, as most will use the opportunity to check out the city and the course for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in September.

Then there are the previously disadvantaged development athletes.

Triathlon is not the most popular sport in black communities, but a few keen triathletes are working hard to change that.

In my work at the Mandela Bay Development Agency, I get to see and interact with many NPOs which are doing something to help those who only need opportunities.

A partnership between the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and Ironman South Africa in 2005 gave birth to an Ironman participation programme called Siyaphambili. This initiative is a standalone NPO that strives to identify and train previously disadvantaged triathletes to take part in the Ironman South Africa triathlon, comprising a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42.2km run.

This is done by ensuring that the athlete has the correct triathlon equipment, training programme, coaching and nutrition to ensure successful participation.

The programme started in 2005 with just seven athletes, but today it includes 30 athletes whose lives have been changed for the positive.

There is Hanson Singaphi, of Walmer township, who has a passion for sport, especially athletics. Paul Wolff, of Ironman SA, spotted Singaphi, then a cleaning supervisor at a Humewood gym.

Singaphi showed an interest in the training Wolff was giving in the pool, and so learnt to swim properly and joined the team just five months short of the 2005 Ironman South Africa.

Singaphi was recently the first black South African to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii in October.

In less than six weeks we will surely hear more life-changing stories.

Nelson Mandela Bay, get ready to roll out the red carpet.

Leave a Reply