Kwazulu Natal’s Natalie le Roux and Central Gauteng’s 93-year-old Cecily Rootenburg re-wrote the history books when they set new world and national records at the annual ASA 50km and Interprovincial Championships held in Pacaltsdorp, George on Saturday, 21 October.

For an event that was organized in less than two months, Athletics South Western District outdid themselves and put on a race walk show to remember. Needless to say, perfect weather conditions welcomed the race walkers to Olympic Avenue, the start/finish venue for the races-50k, 20k, 10k, 5k, 3k and 1k- on the event schedule. The pistol sounded at 6h30 for the 50km walkers (3 men and 1 woman), 30 minutes later for the 20km competitors and basically every 30 minutes brought the start of a new race. And so the 32nd version of these championships kicked off.

History was the name of the game when Natalie le Roux lined up for the women’s 50km, the latest championship race introduced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Starting alongside the defending South African 50km champion Mthunzi Mnisi, Le Roux was set up to start out faster than her expected her goal pace (under 5 hours), but the early pace would pay dividends in the latter stages of the race. The men went through the first 10km in 54 minutes, but soon afterwards dropped the pace and all of a sudden it became a tactical race. Pheagane Manamela of CGA worked with AGN’s Mnisi for most of the race, but a surge by the defending champion after the half way mark set him apart. He stopped the clock on 4:36:40 to be crowned champion for the third consecutive year, and Manamela finished second in a new personal best of 4:46:40. Le Roux, though, remained within striking distance of her male counterparts and managed to finish in 4:54:33, obliterating the previous 5:17:55 national record set by Sandra Steenkamp by more than 20 minutes. “The IAAF has opened up the 50km for women, so I wanted to see how it felt and gave it a go,” she told “The plan was to try and go under five hours.” And that is exactly what she did. Looking ahead, the Boxer Athletics elite walker has her eyes set on greater heights. “The next plan will be to go closer to 4:30, but it was a long distance and it’s my first race, so I’m really proud of myself and excited to try it again.”

Like Mnisi and Le Roux, 93-year old Cecily Rootenberg of CGA enjoyed the limelight as she was on the verge of becoming the first ever 90-95 age category race walker in the world to finish a 20km. Rootenberg was on the road shortly after the 50km with 20km walkers, a race which was eventually won by Sizwe Ndebele (1:28:07) and Zelda Schultz (1:51:38). Cecily though, courageous as ever, went according to her own stride and with all the support along the way, she managed to finish the 20km in 3:54:41. She has defied all the odds and now breaking records to her are like breaking barriers for others.

Elwich Van Wyk of Athletics South Western District (ASWD) went on to win the junior boys’ race, outclassing his compatriots. With Francois Jacobs, the talented South African u/18 champion in the mix, Van Wyk showed guts and put in a surge that no one could respond to in the final 2km. The talent pool in ASWD, CGA, AGN, EPA, WPA and all the provinces’ race walking has grown in leaps and bounds, but more can be achieved.


Written by Reggie Hufkie