Johannesburg – In walking mode his style may be comical but South African race-walking record holder Lebogang Shange has a swagger that accompany his cool demeanour.
When Shange first took up the sport he was the victim of jibes from ignorant bystanders but the diminutive walker is on a mission to make the sport fashionable.
“People laugh and I used to get angry but I think to myself, this is my sport, this is what I love, and it has taken me all over the world where I have met new people,” Shange said.
“I don’t care what people say...in the Township the people laugh where there is this song called Y-tjukutja, so they will follow me and shout ‘y-tjukutja’ which means shake yourself.”
No matter the amount of taunts he receives, Shange is laughing all the way into the record books and has five new national marks this season alone.
“I am trying to make race walker simpler for everyone, when people see race walking they say ‘what is this sport?’ they think it is for old people.
“I want walking in South Africa to grow, when I go to Europe it is huge and they people are saying this black guy is doing so good.”
At the recent IAAF World Championships in Beijing, he produced the best performance of his career finishing in 11th place in 20km race walk.
Shange’s time of 1:21:43 was an improvement on his previous record and the fourth time he had posted the Rio Olympic Games qualifying time of 1:24:00 during the qualifying window period.
“I was scared to move into the front pack but I’ve learned from my mistakes and I will stop being scared thinking of my sports psychology and from next year I must start in front and hang on,” Shange said.
He believed an adjustment in his tactics could see him reach the top-10 in Rio de Janeiro and even challenge for a medal.
Shange made a plea to the South African sporting fraternity for greater investment in the country’s athletes and said they needed to be better prepared for global competitions.
He said a step in the right direction would be to host a camp ahead of major competitions while athletes should also be allowed enough time to acclimatise in the country in which the competitions are held.
“Our country needs to support our athletes with the season starting in April the athletes are fatigued come August,” Shange said.
“Many of our athletes don’t have funds to go to Europe and they have to stay here in South Africa during the winter.
“Our country needs to try harder, and if that happens, I guarantee we will produce good results. All of the athletes that were based in Europe finished in the finals.”
Earlier on Tuesday the 25-year-old added the Africa Games gold medal to his accolades for the season winning the title in a time of 1:26.43.