8 March 2018 – Limpho Mpopo starred at the recent Free State Athletics Championships, winning gold medals in the under-13 200 metres and the 4 x 100m relay. He also claimed a silver in the 100 metres. He’s achieving fantastic results on the track, but, he revealed recently, it took him a while to recognise his talent.
Limpho, who is now in grade 6, started at Saint Andrew’s in grade R. However, it was only in grade 3 that he started to run, and even then, participating in the 60 metres and 80 metres, he didn’t do exceptionally well.
Winning medals has become a regular occurence for star athlete Limpho Mpopo
It took him until grade 5, when he became the fastest boy in his grade, to realise he had a talent for the sport. The following year he asked his father to find him a coach and that's how he ended up under the tutelage of Steven Swartz, the stepfather of 400 metres world record holder Wayde van Niekerk.
Limpho trains with him at Eunice, and while most people see only the end result of his efforts, he said he gives it his all in his training: "A lot of hard work goes into it, lots of fitness and training. I work on explosive power and the movement in the arms and legs, and the starts, as well.
"Training is really hard. Sometimes you have off days. But you still have to push and give whatever you've got. It is hard, but it is also enjoyable."
Regarding nutrition, he admitted: "Sometimes I eat junk food, but not as much as I used to."
His toughest challenge at present are the starts, he reckoned.
Limpho’s challenges and the events he contests echo those of the great Usain Bolt. Their success in the 200 metres mirrors one another (after all Bolt was a 200 metres runner before later incorporating the 100 metres), while their issues with the start are another thing they share in common. It was often suggested that Bolt could be a great 400 metres athlete too, and Limpho is starting training for that event from next week.
Limpho Mpopo came away from the 2018 Free State Athletics Championships with two gold medals and one silver, and even though he won silver in the 100 metres he still bettered the previous provincial record
He said he has met Wayde van Niekerk and spoken to him once at practice. "Unfortunately I missed Usain Bolt when he came to South Africa." Bolt, not surprisingly, is one of his heroes.
Limpho will next be in action at the South African National Junior Athletics Championships in Paarl from 16 March. Last year, as part of the Free State’s 4 x 100m relay squad, he won a bronze medal at the Nationals. He participated in the 100 and 150 metres too. Now, as an under-13 athlete, he will be running the 200 metres, which suits his strengths better.
Discussing his success over the longer sprint, he said: "I have a slow start. Other athletes have great explosive power, but when I hit the bend I have more energy."
Limpho is confident he and the Free State team will do well in Paarl.
Questioned about his dreams, he candidly said, in his quiet, respectful manner: "I think I want to beat Usain Bolt's record in the 100 metres and 200 metres. A lot of hard work and belief needs to go into it. I see athletics as being my future."
He also said he thought former Saint Andrew’s schoolboy Tshenolo Lemao, who won gold in the 100 metres and silver in the 200 metres at the under-18 World Championships, had done very well, but he wanted to improve upon his records.
As far as his classmates are concerned, he is just another one of the boys, he said: "Some of them are proud of me. Some, being playful, say I should beat the guy who beat me in the 100 metres."