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FISU Champion looks to leave her mark at upcoming World Cross Country Championships

Championships 21 March 2024

It was South African domination at the Muscat 2024 FISU World University Championship Cross Country held in Oman in February. Africa’s southernmost nation bagged six medals, including three gold from the four individual events to top the table after the two-day competition.

Leading the way for South Africa with two of those medals was shining talent Karabo Mailula, who earned mixed long relay bronze and 10km gold in the women’s event after an extremely challenging race.

“My individual 10km race was tough,” she tells, having broken the tape a full 11 seconds ahead of the United Kingdom’s Alice Goodall. “I was struggling with flu and suffered a lot with the heat. I didn’t think I would win this event; I just came to run my best.”

Photo courtesy Karabo Mailula

And run her best she did, keeping a promise to her primary school teacher that believed in her talent as an 11-year-old student, and who ran with no guidance but with sheer love for the sport.

“I had no coach to train me and I knew nothing about training, so all I did was run my best in local competitions,” she says. “Upon leaving primary school, I received an award for Best Athlete, which motivated me a lot. I made a promise to my class teacher that I would not stop running in high school, and that I would keep running even at university level.”

Now a third-year education student at the University of Pretoria, things have changed. Karabo is now coached by world-renowned middle-distance athlete and Olympic gold-medalist Caster Semenya. So what is it like to be coached by a multiple World, continental, Olympic, and Commonwealth champion?

“I have learned so much from her, like believing yourself, trusting the process even when you don’t improve immediately, and learning to be patient,” Karabo says. “Coach Caster has also helped me with running strategies, being consistent in my running times, and helping me not panic when I run.”

The 21-year-old, who hails her FISU Championship Cross Country success as the biggest achievement in her career, has now qualified to represent South Africa at the World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia at the end of March. There she is looking forward to competing against and rubbing shoulders with the world’s best.

“In Serbia I am planning to run my best and represent my country well,” she humbly says. “I hope to learn new strategies on how to run in these big races with experienced athletes.”

For now though, it’s back to the books for Karabo, with her long-term goal of becoming a teacher right up there with her desire to “train as hard as I can to run faster”.

Belgrade beckons.

Written by Fabio De Dominicis – UMedia Reporter