CAPE TOWN - AFTER Ntando Mahlangu clinched the gold medal at the Tokyo Paralympics on Saturday, he made reference to his coach who was “coaching from home”, and that man is Neil Cornelius.
Mahlangu produced a leap of 7.17m in the men's long jump T63 class – which was also a world record in the T61 category – with his final attempt to snatch top spot from German Leon Schafer (7.12m) and Denmark's Daniel Wagner (7.07m), who claimed the silver and bronze medals respectively.
Earlier in the day, Anrune Weyers grabbed the first gold for Team SA in the women's 400m T47 class.
“This is not my medal. So much work was put in it back at home. My coach is also coaching from home, and I am sure he is super excited now,” Mahlangu said from Tokyo on Saturday.
“What he said on my last jump, he said ‘Stop kicking it, just give it your best. I know you have it in you', and at the end, jumping 7.17m – taking me from bronze back to a gold medal …”
Jumping into the record books like... 😁— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) August 28, 2021
Ntando Mahlangu from #RSA jumped 7.17 metres in the Men's Long Jump - T63, winning #gold and setting a new T61 world record in the process! 🙌#ParaAthletics #Tokyo2020 #Paralympics
🥇 @TeamSA2020 pic.twitter.com/fo34Cxvw41
It was Cornelius, his mentor from the Tuks Sport club in Pretoria, who was giving him that advice. He is renowned as a jumping coach, having also helped Luvo Manyonga to the Rio 2016 silver medal. Cornelius said in a Tuks Sport statement yesterday that he had been sending Mahlangu messages via WhatsApp from his living room in Elarduspark.
“I yelled. I think it might be the loudest yell ever. My wife rushed over to see if I was Okay,” Cornelius said when he saw Mahlangu's distance come on the TV screen, adding that his tip before the last jump was: “Relax. Don't overthink things. Don't stress. Be fearless. Attack. Believe in yourself.”
What made the achievement even more astonishing is the fact that Mahlangu had only started training for the long jump about seven weeks ago, with the 200m his main event.
He finished fourth in the long jump at Rio 2016, and did not continue with the event due to the impact it had on his back. And the hard work paid off at the Tokyo Stadium.
“When Ntando asked me to help him, I wanted to know how committed he was going to be. His answer was, 'coach, I want to take this seriously'. It was precisely what he did. I would go as far as to say that he is one of the most disciplined athletes I worked with. He always gives 100%. Ntando is also a perfectionist,” Cornelius said.
“One of the biggest challenges was to make sure that Ntando did not hurt his back while jumping. That is the reason why he had stopped competing in the long jump a few years back. I realised we had to improve his technique to lessen the impact on his back when he lands.
🇿🇦 Congratulations to our star athletes Ntando Mahlangu and Anrune Weyers for securing #TeamSouthAfrica's first medals at the @Tokyo2020 #Paralympics earlier today. Ntando took Gold in the Men’s Long Jump T61 with a new world record and Anruné won the women’s 400m. Outstanding! pic.twitter.com/QCPucFVivt— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿🇦 #StaySafe (@CyrilRamaphosa) August 28, 2021
“As I did not want to risk anything, I had Ntando practising his landing on the high jump mats. It was only when I was satisfied that he mastered the new technique that I allowed him to do proper jumps.
“During training, he consistently jumped 6.80 metres. It indicated that he had a big jump waiting to happen. However, what surprised me is the ease with which he jumped the 7.02 metres and 7.17 metres.”
Now it's the 200m in the T61 category for Mahlangu, with the final scheduled for Friday (12.42pm SA time).