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MBDA backed triathletes are ready for Ironman World Champs

Thembile Nxele, Siyabulela Mpengesi and Peter Gatangi made history in January and June this year by being the only previously disadvantaged triathletes to have made the cut to race the Ironman 70.3 World Championship on merit alone.

The trio, who were selected through an open call by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) back in 2017 to be part of a programme to assist athletes of colour, were successful in landing World Champs participation slots after a gruelling qualification process.

The programme was designed by the MBDA as an attempt to unleash talent, but most importantly, to prove that triathletes of colour have as much potential and talent as any other group and, given support, would do well. Triathlon and Ironman is regarded as a niche sport for a few; to add to the challenge, most athletes of colour aren't usually associated with swimming and mastering that discipline is critical if one is going to make any significant progress in triathlon. Besides, the swim is the first of the three disciplines, followed by cycling and running.

Luvuyo Bangazi, a triathlete himself and co-ordinator of the programme, says: "It gives the MBDA great pride to know that what we set out to achieve had borne fruit. Qualification for an Ironman World Championship event is not an easy task; triathletes literally need to be on top of their game because they are not only competing against local athletes, but are up against the best in the world, all vying for that special qualification medallion.

"Through this programme, the MBDA, working with the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality Adidas distributor Terry Thornton (also qualified for 'Worlds'), Team Tissink Triathlon and Nutritech, have been able to inspire a new crop of young athletes to also believe that anything is possible. The dedication, motivation and work ethic this trio had demonstrated over the daunting qualification process will surely do them well on race day and in everyday life," added Bangazi.

Nxele, a shift worker at Continental Tyre SA, says: "Getting to the start line of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship has been made possible through lots of sacrifice. It has been tough for me having to juggle night shifts with training and family responsibilities. Thanks to my coach, Raynard Tissink, and the MBDA for being patient and helping us along to get to this point. We are amped and ready to go."

The Ironman 70.3 World Championship is the culmination of more than 100 races from around the world, where over 130 000 athletes vie for the 4 500 available participation slots. The race is aptly named 70.3, depicting the 70.3 miles (113km) spread over 1.9km open water swim, 90.1km cycle and finishing off with a 21.1km run. Professional triathletes race for the overall win, while amateur triathletes race for age group podium honours.

"The MBDA wishes Thembile, Jabu and Peter and all other participants all of the best when they tackle the course on Saturday," concluded Bangazi.