Cape Town - Three-time Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu is hard at work, preparing for his maiden assault on the 50km World Championships in Romania on September 1.
The ever-focused Bulwer-born Maritzburg resident confirmed his talent on the international stage by finishing second and third in the 100km World Championships in 2016 and 2018 ,respectively, but this will be his first appearance at the 50km event because Athletics South Africa have not sent a team to it in recent years.
Mthembu has been training for the race in Brasov, Romania, and is expected to do well as the captain of the South African squad, according to team manager Nick Bester.
The winner of the Two Oceans 56km in Cape Town in April and runner-up of the Comrades 87km in Pietermaritzburg in June has been preparing under his personal coach Xolani Mabhida from the Midlands, but Bester says he has made input on the programmes of Mthembu and the other squad members to improve readiness levels.
“The preparations are going well and I believe we will have a good chance of a team medal, as long as everybody finishes the race,” said Bester.
“Our team was picked more on Two Oceans times than Comrades times because this is a 50km event. Bongmusa obviously has a chance of winning the race. In fact, I think we have four guys who could win it, the others being Edward Mothibe, Lungile Gongqa and Joseph Manyedi.”
Another former Comrades winner, David Gatebe, is set to be used as a pacemaker in Romania, while the other man in the 12-person squad is also a respected figure in the form of Charles Tjiane.
The six women in the squad are Yolande Maclean, Salome Cooper, Ntombesintu Mfunzi, Deanne Horn, Tanith Maxwell and Fikile Mbuthuma.
Maxwell and Mbuthuma came into the picture after the withdrawals of Jenna Challenor and Kathryn van Meter from the original squad.
The course in Romania is fairly flat on 100% tarred roads and the weather is expected to be moderate on race day.
Added Bester: “I reckon you need to come home in around two hours, 45 minutes or 46 minutes to win the race, and our guys are definitely capable of doing that, considering there aren’t too many hills along the course. It seems Japan will be major rivals.”
The squad will leave South Africa on August 28.