“Another one bites the dust.” These words come from the lyrics of the hit song sung by the British rock group, Queen, but quite unintentionally they suit the recent performances by the race walker, Lebogang Shange, to a tee. Last night, in a meeting in Cork, Ireland, he succeeded in bettering the South African 5 000m race walk record.
His winning time was 18 minutes and 56.84 seconds, nearly 32 seconds faster than Chris Britz’s record time of 19:29.24 set in 1997. What makes his performance even more remarkable is that it was the fourth time this season that Shange improved on a national record, each time over a different distance. Days before each of his record attempts, the Tuks/HPC athlete made his intention to break the record clear.
His confidence in his own abilities was certainly not unwarranted. Every time he put on his racing shoes, it was a repetition of the Queen lyrics “another one bites the dust”. The other records that have fallen because of his fleet-footedness are the 20km race walk record of Chris Britz (1:22:21 – 1996) and the 3 000 metre track record, also held by Britz (11:27.20 – 1989).
Shange’s SA record for the 20km race walk is 1:21:50; for the 3 000 metres it is 11 minutes and 20.39 seconds. He also won the 20 000 metres race walk at a track meeting in Bedford, England, in 1:23:20. This was more than a minute faster than the South African record of 1:24:51 that was set by Valentine way back in 1989.
The only official national records that Shange has not yet managed to make his own are the 10km race walk and the 10 000 metres track record, but it will probably be only a matter of time before he breaks them as well. In an email this morning, the Tuks/HPC athlete announced that he plans to come back to South Africa on 9 August to break the 10km record. So watch this space.
He does not plan to compete in 50km races in the immediate future. Unfortunately for Shange there will be no more opportunities for him to race internationally before the World Championships in Beijing (22-30 August). According to Chris Britz, his coach, Shange will now go to a training camp in Italy where he will get the opportunity to train with some of the best race walkers: ‘The fact that Lebogang will not be able to race again is certainly not ideal. What I will do is to let him do a few serious time trials to monitor his progress in the build-up to the World Championships. During the next few weeks it will be important for him to work towards improving his power output and endurance.’
According to Britz a top-ten finish at the World Championships is a realistic goal: ‘Because there is so much at stake the race tactics at a World Championships and the Olympics are normally quite different from that in the other international races. This means that if Lebogang can keep his cool and is able to walk at a 1 hour 21 minutes pace, he will be close to the leaders. On a good day he might be able to get a top-five finish or even contest for the bronze medal, but I will be happy with a top-ten finish for now.’
Britz is proud of the fact that Shange managed to improve on three of the South African records he set. He says: ‘Winning a title is everlasting, but records are there to be broken. Most of my records stood for more than 10 years which is never a good thing. When records are broken it shows that there is progress in the sport, so what Lebogang has been doing is exciting.’
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott