Thursday, 2 May 2013 – The 23 year old Lebogang Shange from Central Gauteng not only won the SA Championships, but travelled to Mauritius less than a week later where he also won the Africa Race Walking Championships. As the Africa Champion and according to the IAAF criteria, he is now considered to have automatically qualified for the World Championships in Russia in August where he is hoping to break the SA record.
Winning the title was not the easiest task at hand. Athletics South Africa did not select a team for the African Race Walking Championships, but this did not deter Shange from following his dream to win the title. “I knew that I could win this race, so when we realized that no team was going to be sent to Mauritius, we started making plans to go.” Everything from buying air tickets to temporary passports was arranged in record time to enable him to compete at the Championships.
On the day of the competition, hot and humid weather played a role on performance. Shange talks about the condition and what pushed him in the end. “I was extremely tired, but when I thought about my sponsor, my mentor and the trouble we had getting to Mauritius, I decided that I can’t let anybody else win the race.” Shange pushed hard at the bell, increasing his lead. He crossed the line in 1:28:31 followed by Hassanine Sebei from Tunisia in 1:28:40. “I would have never been able to do it without my sponsor, coach and mentor Brenda Walkfer.”
Seeing race walking on TV was what inspired Shange to take up this sport instead of running. “When I saw it I thought it would be much easier than running, so I decided to become a race walker. Little did I know how difficult it was going to be since it is a very technical sport,” said Shange. “Race walking is a fantastic sport and I love it. It is extremely challenging and when one has completed a good training session or a good race, it makes you feel great.”
The youngster started race walking at the age of 18 and has gone from strength to strength in the past 3 years of his career. He won the SA Race Walking Championships over 20km in Cape Town in 2011 and 2012 and became the SA Champion at the SA Track and Field Championships for the second consecutive year over the same distance. He also represented South Africa at the World Race Walking Cup in Saransk, Russia in May 2012 where he finished 76th in 1:30:05.
Before the World Championships, Shange is hoping to travel to Leeds in the UK for three months to train with the British Race walking team as part of his preparation. Shange trains 145km per week and have a special program which he follows in order to achieve his goal of breaking the SA record for the 20km race walk. The current record (on the road) of 1:22:21 belongs to Chris Britz and has been standing since 11 May 1996 while the same record on the track of 1:24:51, by Stanley Valentine, stands since 1 May 1989. Shange’s personal best is currently recorded at 1:25:48 at the SA Championships in Port Elizabeth on 14 April 2012.
His is now hoping to compete at the Gran Premio Cantones de la Coruna on 1 June followed by the 19th Dublin International Grand Prix of race walking on 29 June.
The only other walker to have reached the IAAF qualifying standard in race walking is the 50km race walker Marc Mundell with his performances at the World Race Walking Cup in Saranskas as well as the Olympic Games. The 29 year-old finished 26th in 3:57:57 in Saransk and improved the time to 3:55:32 in London. Both these African record performances count as qualifying times for the World Championships.