Luvuyo Bangazi | Keen interest and fierce competition to qualify for PE champs
On Sunday June 3, nearly 3 000 triathletes rushed into the waters of the Indian Ocean in Durban with many harbouring the hopes of nabbing one of the 150 prized Ironman 70.3 world championship slots in September.
I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in this journey as far back as March 2016 when Nelson Mandela Bay decided to bid.
Competition was strong from the likes of Nice and Budapest.
I remember the conversations the bid team had in trying to find our differentiator and angle that would secure this prized event.
At stake was the possibility to host more than 4 000 athletes from nearly 100 races world-wide. The income to the city’s economy was estimated at well over R200-million over eight to 10 days.
Our competitors had just as much if not slightly less experience in hosting events of this nature.
These two cities boast iconic architecture, the best in road infrastructure and are both located at the heart of Europe making it less costly for international triathletes and their families to travel there.
In the end all we had was the African experience to sell – the city named after the world icon Nelson Mandela with its abundant natural and wildlife experiences was top of our trump card. In September 2016, the news came that the world would be heading to our shores.
Fast-forward to Sunday when the last South African qualifying event took place in Durban, nearly all made up of keen South Africans.
The buzz word at the expo and race village was “slots” or “world champs”.
And that to me was just amazing, just as much as we know the world is ecstatic about the event, to see South Africans from all walks of life captured by the possibility of a home world championship was inspiring.
A world championship event without the full buy-in and support of locals is just an inconvenience.
But what our South African triathletes have demonstrated over the entire qualification period is true country pride and confidence in Nelson Mandela Bay to deliver yet another spectacular event.
So when all was concluded, race complete and results in, all that was left on Sunday was slot allocation. Only 150 slots with 100 set aside for women were available.
What is unique about slot allocation is that the doors are locked when the process starts so if you are not in, you lose out.
If you already have one or cannot take yours for any reason then it rolls down to the next person in the age category based on results.
On Sunday, the room was full to capacity. Hundreds pulled in just in case they made it.
In the end 150 walked out of the room having secured their medallions and confirmation of a place at the first ever Ironman world championship event on African soil.
Among the 150 were three young Africans, Siyabulela Jabu Mpengesi, Thembile Nxele and Peter Gatangi.
That evening, Nxele and Mpengesi had secured the only slots by previously disadvantaged individuals.
Gatangi had already secured his in January at the East London event.
We celebrate this trio who had secured an opportunity from the Mandela Bay Development Agency programme, an experiment to demonstrate that when talent meets the necessary support, results will come.
The MBDA experiment will hopefully inspire youth in all townships that anything is possible through hard work and dedication.