Championship material…

Milnerton High School is having a bumper season on the track this year with no less than 10 pupils making it onto the Western Province team that will travel to Paarl this weekend to battle for top honours against their Boland and SWD counterparts in the Western Cape High Schools’ and Junior Championships.

They are Kian Johnson, Gina de Klerk, Cyriel Attekeble, Anuk Botha, Brian Dosemba, Robin Lund, Ryan Durler, Hannah Meyer, Kyra Upton and Charmaine Leung.

Making it this far is an achievement on its own but they know that the real challenge now lies in front of them. Head of athletics at the school, Nicky Slabber, says her athletes have what it takes to step onto the podium this weekend but that their mental games will need to be as strong as their physical ones.

“I’ve looked at the times of the Boland and SWD athletes and they are really good but we are well within making those times.

“The conditions in Paarl are going to be tough but my athletes have surprised me right through the season and I don’t think they are going to stop now.

“In my 20 years as coach I think this is one of the best bunches we have ever had. We had 41 athletes selected to represent the Table Bay Zone at the Western Province champs and now 10 of them competing at Western Cape. In a school that has such diverse sporting codes, this is a big win for us.

“As a coach it’s all about keeping the kids interested in the sport. We have a good team of coaches and we don’t chase anyone away.

“Our talent identification begins with the new Grade 8s and we see how the rest of the age groups do at our inter-house competitions. We don’t just focus on the winners but look for potential in the athletes,” said Slabber.

One such newly-uncovered talent is Grade 8 pupil Kian Johnson, of Sunningdale. Two months ago he had never even lined up for a sprint, with soccer being his sporting vocation of choice since the age of seven.

Now, after clocking in top times on the track at inter-house, inter-school and even inter-zonal championships, he will be donning the red WP disa as he tries to nab gold in the 800m event this weekend.

“I’ve always just played soccer at my club, Sunningdale, so I never did any athletics competitions in primary school except maybe training for fitness. I knew I was fast on the soccer field but never really knew how good I was.

“When we had orientation at high school I won all my races but still didn’t think I was that good. I didn’t have technique or know how to do things like pacing for the longer races.

“I ran sprints in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m events at our school’s sports day and I won all of my events. Then we went to inter-schools and I won again and that was when I started to think to myself maybe I am actually good at this.

“From there my dad bought me proper gear to train and compete in and I started taking it more seriously to stay focused, train hard and to make sure I eat the right things too.

“I never thought I’d represent Western Province. I always heard how good athletes had to be to make a team like that and now I am one of those people.

“I am always nervous before I race and even when I am on the line about to start the race but I try to turn those nerves into energy. I know I have only been doing this for six weeks but that is what I love about athletics – there’s so much to learn every day.

“Competitions help to bring out the best in you because you have other athletes pushing you and with that push I think I have a good chance at Western Cape champs,” he said.

On that coach Slabber agrees.

“Kian is the perfect example of what you can achieve in just a few weeks, even when you start from scratch.

“He is the first Grade 8 pupil in a number of years to make it onto the WP team. A big part of that is because there isn’t a big focus on athletics in primary schools in the area so when the kids get here they sometimes have no idea how to run some of these races.

“We are lucky to have our coaches Justin Heyman, Jono Rumbelow and returning old boy athlete Roscoe Engel. They all do a great job in getting the athletes ready.

“It is also great to see the school encouraging past pupils to do their internships here as they build good relationships with the kids,” said Slabber.