PE triathletes make history

Trio qualify for Ironman 70.3 world champs in September

Triathletes, from left, Thembile Nxele, Peter Gatangi and Siyabulelo ‘Jabu’ Mpengesi are all set for the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Port Elizabeth
Triathletes, from left, Thembile Nxele, Peter Gatangi and Siyabulelo ‘Jabu’ Mpengesi are all set for the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Port Elizabeth
Image: Supplied

Three Nelson Mandela Bay triathletes will make history when they compete against the world’s best at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Port Elizabeth later this year.

Peter Gatangi, 41, Thembile Nxele, 34, and Siyabulelo “Jabu” Mpengesi, 35, have become the first previously disadvantaged triathletes to qualify for the world championship showpiece on merit.

Gatangi was the first to secure his spot, claiming 13th place at the 70.3 East London event held at the end of January.

“It is amazing how large a tree can grow compared to the tiny seed that’s planted,” he said.

“When the MBDA placed the advert inviting triathletes to apply my seed was planted.

“What changed since then was my mindset. I started imagining being on the start line of the coveted race.”

Mpengesi (9th) and Nxele (8th), earned their spots after the Durban 70.3 event held at the weekend.

Racing in one of the most competitive age groups, the duo made their intentions clear as they finished in the top 10 to secure a berth at the world event.

“Landing a slot for world champs is a huge achievement for me because when I started triathlon I never thought I would go this far,” Nxele said.

“I had to be strong physically and mentally and this made me realise that there’s so much potential within me.”

Mpengesi, who is the most experienced triathlete of the three, said: “Getting the slot for me is a big deal and a huge relief, especially having gone through the tough process and qualifying with a top 10 in my category.”

The trio were selected to be part of a two-year programme developed by the Mandela Bay Development Agency to find promising previously disadvantaged triathletes.
They then received backing from the initiative in their quest to qualify for the global spectacle.

Out of the applications received for consideration, six were chosen, but it was this trio which stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Once selected, they were put through a rigorous training camp under the guidance of South Africa’s most decorated Ironman participant, Raynard Tissink, who now plies his trade as a coach at Team Tissink Triathlon.

Through these camps, the athletes were able to hone their skills in a bid to earn their spots.

MBDA spokesman and avid triathlete Luvuyo Bangazi said to qualify for a spot at the world championships athletes needed to outperform almost all of their age group competitors.

“The case of Thembile and Siyabulela was interesting as both competed in the 35-39 age category which had over 320 starters in Durban on Sunday,” he said.

A legendary Ironman competitor and multiple Ironman champion, Tissink was the driving force behind the trio’s qualification bid and will continue to do so until the September event.

“It’s been such an amazing opportunity working with Thembile, Jabu and Peter and helping them earn their slots for the world champs,” Tissink said

“For Thembile and Jabu to finish in 8th and 9th place in their age groups and Peter 6th place in his, shows their talent and ability.”

Tissink said the next aim for them would be to gain podium positions, saying: “they are more than capable of achieving this”.

“I know that their achievements have inspired many other PDI [previously disadvantaged] athletes to pursue their dreams,” he said. Eight previously disadvantaged athletes, including the trio, will be guaranteed participation in September, with a few races still to run.

The other five, who are part of the Siyaphambili Participation Initiative, gained their spots after following a set criteria in order to gain qualification.