South African athletics received a massive boost in March thanks to a series of five Invitational Middle Distance Track meets hosted by Athletes Academy and Endurocad in Stellenbosch in March. Each meet produced between 20 and 40 personal records, including a sub-four minute ‘Dream Mile’ by both Ashley Smith and Maxime Chaumeton. Smith’s winning time of 3:58.63 was the fastest mile run in SA for 25 years.
This series was followed by the announcement of the launch of the Athletes Academy Club in Stellenbosch on Wednesday 21 April, under the leadership of former Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Elana Meyer and experienced athletics event specialist Janet Welham. The new club offers athletes more than just world class coaching and training facilities, but also life skills training, career development workshops, and resources to encourage and assist athletes to develop holistically.
Exciting Meets lead to Multiple Records
The exciting and hugely successful Invitational Middle distance Track Series comprised of five events, running weekly from 1 March to 29 March, and all taking place at the world famous and picturesque Coetzenburg Athletics Stadium in Stellenbosch. This track has a rich history of world class middle distance performances, including De Villiers Lamprecht running the first Dream Mile in South Africa in 1963, and this annual series of meets was launched in 2019 to give local athletes the chance to compete in top level competition.
The impact of COVID-19 has resulted in very few opportunities for athletes across the country to race competitively, or to qualify for the upcoming international competitions, including the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and the World U20 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, both taking place in July 2021. The series in Stellenbosch was thus a breath of fresh air for the sport, and attracted some of the best athletes from across the country. This led to many exciting races and a multitude of new personal bests, in spite of there being no spectators allowed in the stadium due to COVID safety restrictions.
Other than Smith and Chaumaton’s Dream miles, some more standout performances included the exciting dual between Precious Mashele and Mbuleli Mathanga in the men’s 5000m, both dipping under 13:30, and the 15:43.41 run by local athlete Kyla Jacobs (Van Graan) in the women’s 5000m elevated her to eighth-fastest SA women ever for the distance. It was also the fastest time run by a South African women in 14 years.
The meets were organised by South African running icon Elana Meyer and her team, which includes multiple national champion Nolene Conrad and Tanya Carstens. “The track series has sparked enthusiasm for middle distance running amongst both athletes and coaches,” says Meyer.
“The athletes recorded world class times, for five weeks in a row, and their performances have been truly inspirational. We are seeing a new wave of runners stepping up to the front, ready to represent SA on the global stage, and I want to salute them for that!”
The series was supported by more than 30 coaches from across the country, and Meyer is quick to acknowledge the integral role they played in the success of the series. The feedback from coaches was also overwhelmingly positive. “The Endurocad track series was pitched at the perfect moment to enhance a season that had been lacking top level racing opportunities,” says coach Ernie Gruhn.
“The energy of the organisers, the motivated attitude of the athletes and most importantly the astounding number of new PB’s, season’s best times and outstanding individual performances – which represent the best SA domestic results in more than half a decade, in some cases – clearly confirms the success of the Endurocad series. Congratulations to all the coaches and athletes who participated, and thank you, Endurocad!” he adds.
New Club Focused on Emerging Athletics Talent
The Athletes Academy Club was officially launched on Wednesday 21 April at Canyon Café in Stellenbosch. The Athletes Academy was established in 2019 by Elana Meyer and Janet Welham, and although the club isstill in its infancy,it has already managed to attract an impressive pool of talented athletes. Currently there are just over 100 members, with the majority of them being Junior (under-20) athletes.
This performance-oriented club endeavours to produce world class athletes on a consistent basis, with the support of expert coaches and passionate, driven staff, in a high performance environments. The Club also offers athletes life skills training, individual mentorship, career development workshops, world class facilities, as well as resources to encourage and assist the athletes to develop holistically. As a result, the club places a huge focus on:
· Performance Excellence– Performance incentives are linked to World Athletics scores and rewards athletes for their performances with cash bonuses as well as gear from apparel sponsor, adidas.
· Development of young female talent– By establishing an Elite Junior and u/23 female squad, the club is creating a platform for young up-and-coming female athletes to gain experience, be empowered, as well as gain exposure in a competitive environment.
· Community Development– the club has sponsored 50 memberships to young athletes from the local Kayamandi community. Through this community project, the club can identify talent and provide support to those athletes, so that they too can achieve their full potential.
· Wellness and Lifestyle – there will be weekly social runs from Canyon Café in Dorp Street every Friday morning at 6am, to encourage our community to be active and enjoy the outdoors.
The recent track series in Stellenbosch saw 24 Athletes Academy Club athletes competing, and collectively they recorded 23 personal bests. The Club subsequently had five athletes representing the Boland provincial team at the ASA u/18 and u/20 Track and Field Championships in Paarl from 7-10 April 2021, as well as two senior men included in the Boland team to the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships in Pretoria from 16-18 April.
In more exciting news, the Athletes Academy Club recently signed one of the country’s best middle distance athletes, Rowhaldo Ratz. In 2019, when the athletes last had a proper competitive season, he was ranked number one on the SA Ranking list for the men’s 5000m. In that same year he won the USSA 5000m title at the SA Student Championships, and achieved a bronze medal at the FASU (African Student) Cross Country championships in Morocco.
The Club boasts with a diverse group of coaches, with a wealth of knowledge years of experience. Below are the five coaches and their contact details, should anyone wish to get in touch with them
Ernie Gruhn (Elite athletes across disciplines) – email@example.com
Tanya Carstens (Development)- firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (social runners) – email@example.com
Nolene Conrad (Road Running) – firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Longden (Track and field) – email@example.com