Double Paralympic gold medallist Ntando Mahlangu is leaving the country this week to set up base in London ahead of next year’s Paralympics in Paris where he hopes to reign supreme once gain.
Mahlangu, winner of both the men’s 200 metres T61 and the men’s long jump T63 at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games which were held in 2021 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut the world down in 2020, has secured a sports scholarship to further his studies in the United Kingdom.
“Building up to the Paris Games — I can say it now, because I’ve been keeping it to myself — I am moving my base to London because I will be studying Business Management at the Loughborough University in London,” Mahlangu, an Under Armour athlete, told IOL Sport during the opening of the brand’s store at Menlyn Mall in Pretoria on Saturday morning.
Though the 21-year-old athlete who won gold in the 200m T61 at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships cannot repeat his double gold feat from Tokyo in the ‘City of Love’ next September, he remains nevertheless optimistic for the Games.
“They’ve taken away the 200m, so now going to Paris there will be just one event for me — the long jump. And as an athlete I’ve had to change the whole mechanism of my training programme which I have been using all this time. Now, I am focusing on being just a long jumper for the Games. The transition has been well, although hard on the body, but we have the right coaches, fitness coaches in place who know what to do.”
But how does he feel about not being able to ‘defend’ his 200m T61 title?
“What can you do? The event is not there. Some athletes will say that (participating in two events is advantageous because) if you miss the first one, you can go for the second one. For me, when I was in Tokyo, I learnt that when you get that opportunity, you have to execute.”
And execute he did, the young man who was born with fibular hemimelia which affected the development of both his legs below the knee — leading to amputation in 2012 — winning gold in both his disciplines. He plans to execute again even if it is in just the one event he will be competing in next year.
“The long jump carries a lot of weight for me because I have the world record and the gold medal. So there is a lot to fight for and I am taking that fighting spirit to Paris.”
The move to London though means he will still be running even though there’s no 200m at the Paralympics.
“I am going to London on Wednesday and will be Starting with my evaluation with the coaches and then with training and studies the following week. I will be racing for the university so I am going to do some running competitions though my focus is on the long jump for next year. The other things we will see when Paris is done. I just need to make sure that we go to Paris and do what we do best,” he said with the confidence of someone aware of their capabilities.
With one of the fitting rooms at the store dedicated to him and having his huge picture emblazoned on the walls, Mahlangu took time to write what he hopes will be an inspiring message for the shoppers using the room.
When we are free to move, anything is possible: he wrote, before explaining the message.
“This was motivated by the Covid times. During Covid, we were not able to move from one place to another and we were not allowed to go out we were limited to do certain things. When we got out of Covid, I kept reminding myself of those restrictions and this is the quote I came up with to motivate myself and I’ve been using it ever since. So I thought it would be nice to share it with people out there.”
Mahlangu says he values is relationship with Under Armour: “It (relationship) has been very deep. It started very early in my athletics career, back 2019 I was 17/18. So I started my athletics career with Under Armour. For them to be able to put pen on paper when I was still that young; for them to take that risk on me for me it showed what kind of people they were. That’s why I have not looked back. I am happy with how they have been treating me.”