Khayelitsha runner targets Olympic glory

National and CPUT long-distance runner, Siboniso Soldaka, left, at last year's Gugulethu Reconciliation Race. He finished second.

What started off as a jog to help heal a soccer injury, turned out to be the beginning of a journey to the Athletics South Africa (ASA) senior team for Siboniso Soldaka. 

Soldaka, from Khayelitsha, 29, started running in 2012, but all the hard work began in 2013 when he started training full-time, under the guidance of Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) athletics head coach, Sean Snyman.

He moved to Makhaza, in Khayelitsha, from Sterkspruit, in the Eastern Cape, in 2004. He was mentored by both his uncle and cousin, Mazwi and Ncoko Manzingana, to chase after his dream.

After matriculating from Sinako Secondary School, Soldaka obtained a National Diploma in Office Management and Technology at CPUT. This year he is studying towards his Advanced Diploma in Business and Information Administration.

Soldaka said it was at university that he discovered he could pursue different hobbies to help him stay focused and healthy. Suddenly, running became the main influence on his life.

He also believes he can achieve more if he lives each day as if it were his last.

“In 2012 I had some injury from soccer. I decided to take a break from soccer and exercising. Four months later I ran a race for CPUT at the National Student Championships. I finished last in that 3000m steeplechase race. I never did any sport after that but in 2013 I made a decision to focus on athletics and I went to train under coach Sean Snyman,” he said.

“The coach was very supportive and after he told me that if I can be consistent with my training I can improve more and become a better athlete.

“Those words motivated me a lot. As much as I grew up so obsessed and passionate with sport, from that day I promised myself that this is the only sport that I can have another shot to achieve more and get to the professional level,” he said.

In 2016, Soldaka received his first national student colours, and bagged a silver medal in the 1500m race, at the Confederation of University and Colleges Sports Association (CUCSA) Games, in Zimbabwe.

The following year, Soldaka got his first opportunity to compete in Belgium, in Europe. He finished third in his first race, the International Antwerp Athletics Gala 3000m steeplechase, setting a personal best.

He then went on to win his last race, the Memorial Jos Verstockt Track & Field 5000m steeplechase and set a new personal best.

Finally, in 2018, he made it into the ASA Senior South African team, where he represented the country at the African Championships, in Asaba, Nigeria.

As much as there are good highlights to remember, Soldaka also has some bad memories, but says these acted as his learning curves.

In 2019, he got injured at the National Championships, exactly three weeks before he travelled to Europe for the IAAF World Championships qualifiers.

“I ended up missing all my major international races that I was hoping to take part in against the other top international athletes. I was able to travel to Belgium two months later but when I got there I was sick the entire trip. I ended up coming back home after not performing well on my first race. I was upset because I was not able to perform at my best in that 2019 season after I had worked so hard,” he said.

Despite the lockdown affecting a lot of professional athletes like Soldaka, especially financially, he said his aim is to train harder indoors and represent the country at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

“This gives me an opportunity to prepare even better than I was before lockdown began. I believe I will come back stronger and better for the next season to try to qualify for the Olympic Games.”

“The words that I live with every single day, which I would advise the young talent to apply as well, are ‘If you quit, it is never going to happen’,” said Soldaka.