Where are they now: South Africa’s Ntando Mahlangu
Ntando Mahlangu made his international debut at the 2015 IWAS World Junior Games and is now enjoying an exciting career.
South African teenager Ntando Mahlangu has come a long way since making his international debut at the 2015 International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport (IWAS) Junior World Games.
In 2012 the decision was made to amputate both of Mahlangu’s legs after he had spent most of his young life using a wheelchair. Later than same year he was fitted with running blades and never looked back.
Almost exactly four years later to the day, the youngster stepped onto the track for the first time at a Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His debut was to make the world sit up and listen – crossing the finish line in the final of the 200m T42 in second place at the tender age of 14.
“It was an honour for me to represent my country and be included in the team at such a young age,” Mahlangu said. “Getting there was a victory so I went to enjoy it, meet great athletes and make friendships. Rio was an opportunity to do my best and show the people who believed in me that all the work we put in was worth it. That we had achieved something great. Getting the silver medal was the cherry on top, something special I will always remember.”
Like many other Paralympic medallists, Mahlangu got his start at an IWAS World Junior Games. In 2015 he travelled to Stadskanaal, the Netherlands, to compete on the international stage for the first time.
Beginning what was to become a medal-winning habit, Mahlangu claimed gold in the 200m T42. He also set an unofficial senior world record and won the Athlete with Potential Award.
For Mahlangu, the junior Games were at important milestone in his career:
“IWAS was the first time I had been overseas and my first time competing in an international event. The venue was amazing and people so friendly. It was a really fun experience and I got to meet many athletes from around the world. It showed me how much talent there is in Para sport and that I should continue to work hard.”
Not just a fun experience, the Games allowed the South African to show his potential against his peers.
“IWAS allowed me to compete on another level, an international level, and gave me the understanding of how competitions work internationally. I got classified and that gave me a ranking. Getting good results at IWAS opened more doors to compete internationally and more credibility to be selected for Rio by Team SA [South Africa].”
A year later in 2016, Mahlangu added gold in the 100m, 400m and 800m as well as retaining his title in the 200m before his incredible performance at the Paralympics.
Then in 2017 he competed at the World Para Athletics World Championships for the first time. There he secured silver in the 200m again, behind Great Britain’s Richard Whitehead.
With multiple world and Paralympic titles to his name, Whitehead was the man to beat. Mahlangu finally did that in 2018 at the Anniversary Games in London.
“The race was normal for me. I don’t go expecting to win. I went to do my best and make sure I have fun and push myself,” Mahlangu said. “This was just my day. I think Mr Whitehead and I have a good relationship and understanding on and off the track. He’s been a mentor to me and I respect his achievements and what he brings to Para sport.”
The pair also have mutual aims off the track. Mahlangu received his first prosthetics through Jumping Kids, a charity which aims to give disadvantaged children access South Africa access to limbs.
“We want to make sure more kids get equipment so they can compete in the sports and activities that they like” Mahlangu said. “There can be more great athletes who don’t have the chance to try, so we need to give more opportunities to get equipment. Amputee kids should definitely get blades.”
As he works towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics safe in the knowledge that he is one of the best in the field, Mahlangu has bigger aims:
“My biggest dream is to be an example to people, to show people like me and people from my community that they should chase their dreams and believe in themselves and the goodness of others. I’d like to inspire and live a life that uplifts. I want to show that Africa has huge potential and represent South Africa and Africa internationally so that people in Africa know that no matter their situation, dreams are worth chasing and they can do it too.”
The IWAS World Games features a range of competitions in a variety of sports and age groups. Over the years they have become a key proving ground for athletes on their path to the Paralympic Games.