Mpofu basks in Olympic qualification glory

The Herald

Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter

THE year 2022 has been a roller-coaster ride for long-distance runner Isaac Mpofu.

It all began with missing out on a R50 000 prize money and a ticket to race at the World Championship Marathon but ended on a high with an Olympic qualification. 

It has been a mixed bag for the Zimbabwe Republic Police Club athlete. 

But the 34-year-old ended the year in style and is looking forward to the New Year as he prepares for the Paris 2024 Olympics without much pressure. 

Mpofu told The Herald yesterday that he was happy with his qualification, which somehow was unplanned considering that when he ran in the decisive Valencia Marathon, he was motivated more by the desire to improve his ranking and the monetary package that came with that. 

“I am happy with the qualification. I no longer have any pressure next year to run races to qualify but I will just be preparing for the Olympics,” said Mpofu. 

“Maybe with good preparations I can get on the podium. If I get three races before the competition I would be good to go,” he said.

Mpofu was greatly disappointed when Athletics South Africa disqualified him, after he came first at the Durban International Marathon in May, for failing to display the licence number on the back of his bib. 

The ZRP Club athlete had posted a World Championship Marathon qualification time when he romped home in 2 hours 10 minutes 4 seconds in KwaZulu Natal. 

But the dream to compete at the World Championship Marathon in Oregon, United States of America, momentarily turned into a nightmare when ASA said the Zimbabwean had to forfeit his R50 000 prize money and the title for failing to display two licence numbers on the front and back bib. 

“I was so disappointed. I couldn’t understand it but I took it within my stride and as an athlete, I knew it was not the end,” said Mpofu. 

The six weeks he waited for the reinstatement of his time and the go-ahead to compete at the World Championships was probably the longest in his life. 

The South African association finally reinstated Mpofu’s time barely a month before the World Marathon in Oregon. 

“God willing I won the appeal and was able to go and compete at the World Championships. 

“I went with the right mindset,” he said.

Mpofu broke the national record in Oregon when he came 10th crossing the finishing line in 2 hours 7 minutes 57 seconds beating the previous record that stood at 2 hours 9 minutes 52 seconds, set by Cuthbert Nyasango in 2014. 

“I had not planned to break a national record. My target was a top-ten finish. Once I won the appeal and knew I was actually going to Oregon I intensified my training,” he said. 

But the story was not yet complete for the policeman. 

He travelled to compete in the Valencia Marathon in early December. He was in startling form crossing the finishing line in 2 hours 6 minutes 48 seconds, and finishing a credible 12th in a strong field of 200 athletes.

“When I went to Spain, my fitness level was good. I just prepared a little bit of building from my World Championships performance. 

“I went running for prize money. I never thought about an Olympic ticket. You know these international races have better monetary rewards, especially if you break your national record you are paid well, so that was what I wanted to get,’ said Mpofu. 

But last week the World Athletics announced the automatic qualifying standards for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 

The marathon qualifying time is 2 hours 8 minutes 10 seconds. 

And the Valencia Marathon fell within the qualifying window, which is between November 1 2022, and April 30, 2024. 

Mpofu says he is still facing a number of challenges, especially financially in his athletics journey. 

But he believes next year will be a better year since the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee would be assisting the first athlete who has booked a place at the Summer Games.

“The organisers of the Durban International Marathon have already invited me to next year’s edition. But I would like to run European races. It is better to compete against elite athletes and the Kenyans who would be at these events. But my managers and coaches will plan the whole programme for me,” he said. 

The athlete’s training regime involves training three times a day under the close attention of his coach Benson Chauke, who is the national event coaches team for middle and long-distance runners.  

“I wake up early at 5 am and start my main program which is rigorous and includes a road race. Then mid-morning I go to work in the gym and then in the afternoon I go for a jogging session. 

“I am grateful that my employer Zimbabwe Republic Police gives me enough support and full-time training. So these results are also a way of rewarding them and raising my country’s flag high,” said Mpofu.

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