A chat with Africa’s ITU golden girl Kate Roberts

A chat with Africa’s ITU golden girl Kate Roberts

By Merryn Sherwood on 01/07/11 at 11:43 am

Need a little inspiration, or just a little smile? No need to look any further than Kate Roberts’ twitter feed.

Tweeting at @katiepure, the South African always provides a little ray of sunshine into her followers’ days, retweeting quotes from the Dalai Lama and other influential thinkers and generally just injecting a little more love into the world. But when it comes to triathlon, Roberts has a serious side, her own racing and the development of the sport in Africa, particulary the development of women and girls in her home country.

This week, Roberts gets to combine both of those passions when she targets her fifth African title at the 2011 Maputo ATU African Triathlon Championships. Roberts has competed in each edition of the African Championships since it started in 2004 and she has four gold medals, in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 and two silvers, in 2005 and 2008. By being there this weekend Roberts hopes to spread her message, what triathlon has done for her and what it can do for others. It’s an impressive list already, Roberts is a 2008 Olympian and after her best year in the Dextro Energy Triathlon ITU World Championship Series - became the first athlete from Africa to join the ITU Gold Group. So before the African Championships this weekend, we caught up with the 28-year old star to find out more about her, and her future plans.

How did you get involved in triathlon?
“My first triathlon was back in my home town of Bloemfontein, I was always a swimmer and a runner, but I’d never cycled before. I was pretty hopeless on the bike, but it was an amazing day and I’ve just stuck with it since then. I’ve just always been very enthusiastic about the sport and really motivated, from there, it was just what I really wanted to do.”

On South Africa’s chances of hosting an Olympic Games:
“I think in the next five Olympic Games I think that South Africa will have the Olympics and come to the party, I definitely hope to be part of it – I obviously won’t be an athlete, I’m not sure what, whether I’m involved in the actual process of getting the Olympics – it will definitely be in my mind that I definitely want to be part of it. I believe it is just a matter of time before we get it.”

Who are the athletes that you look up to?
Conrad Stoltz breaking away at the Sydney Olympics was something really amazing for sport in South Africa and triathlon in South Africa, that was like ‘wow’. I’ve always looked up to someone like Conrad. Hendrik de Villiers has been a great example too, he’s won World Cups, two years ago he was in absolutely great form and again showing me it’s not a matter of having the best funding, it’s just a matter of believing in yourself. I truly believe Conrad and Hendrik are athletes that could get absolutely no funding yet they would still have that ability to race at a high level and to believe in themselves and that to me has been encouraging and motivating.”

On South African born Simon Lessing (GBR) and Jan Frodeno (GER), and on representing South Africa:
“It’s really hard to say whether they would have performed well if they had competed for South Africa, I think it’s very much a personal thing whether you want to switch nationalities, from my perspective racing for another country just wouldn’t be the same, South Africa is where I was born, it’s my home and racing for another country just wouldn’t be the same, even if I got better funding. But I definitely think its a funding and coaching (issue)… we have so much talent in our country – it’s scary actually – but it’s frustrating because we don’t have the right coaching, we don’t have the right mentality – we kind of think we don’t belong at the top level of racing. It’s definitely a stereotype that athletes in Africa just think that they can’t compete with the world’s best and it’s really a mental thing we have to start believing in ourselves more and realise that we can race with the best athletes in the world and we are just as good as them, if not better. We just have to believe in ourselves and get the right coaching. It’s not even about getting great funding, it’s about getting the right type of skills from a good coach and having that coach believe in you and once they start racing really well, then the confidence picks up and they can race at a higher level, they can race on the circuit. But I think definitely, Jan and Simon Lessing have inspired athletes in South Africa, but in a way it’s also been a bad thing – the only way they are going to be good is if they leave – it’s not the right approach. Hendrik (de Villiers) is a great example, Conrad Stoltz is a great example of athletes who have really performed well in the world stage – so hopefully if the youngsters can see that and hopefully not be discouraged and leave Africa.”

On being one of the only athletes from Africa on the ITU circuit:
“I wouldn’t say it’s extra pressure for me, when I’m on the start list I’m just like any other athlete…but I believe that if I can perform that it definitely will encourage people in Africa and I race well it can be a motivation for them. I would love to see a lot more Africans coming through, male and female, and I believe that we can. I get really frustrated if I am with athletes and I can see that they have the talent but aren’t being advised properly, that’s really frustrating for me to see, you guys could be better than me, you could be there with me – we could get those three starts for South Africa. We just need better coaching advice and better coaching in place and hopefully that will come around, but like I said, racing for Africa is something I’m very proud of and hopefully we can encourage other triathletes to come through the ranks.”

On the small women’s field at the African championships:
“It’s not good if you have this field and it’s not full, but you have to start from somewhere and you just have to work these athletes up and encourage them to compete, from my perspective it’s really hard for me to get involved with the racing but once I’m done I really want to get involved with encouraging women. Hopefully this year there will be more and then next year with the Olympics there will be more girls racing and if we can just keep on improving, the girls will race the Dextro Energy Triathlon series.”

Some of our favourite @katiepure tweets

Mid week thought for Kt… Work like you don’t need the money, love like you have never been hurt & dance like nobody is watching!

Life is like a game of cards, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose…But no matter what your cards in life, whether club, spade, or diamond, always remember - NEVER PLAY WITHOUT A HEART

Thought for your Tuesday: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

So Kt got a Blackberry. Only problem is, I may only start using it next year this time. Gadgets and technology are not my forte.. #butwhatis

What is on the cards for Kt today? Swim, bike, run & naps.. Because that is what I do! #lovemyjob

On South Africa deciding not to bid for the 2020 Olympics:
“My initial reaction was phew, I don’t have to push through for 2020! So for that perspective, it was like, okay, I can be on a husband search before then! I was actually disappointed because the World Cup soccer was such an amazing event for our country and it just showcased our country in such a good way. I was very upset I couldn’t go to any matches because I was based in Europe racing, but I watched basically every match on TV and I was just really proud to be South African and to show the world that my country could produce this awesome, awesome event. There was just such a happy vibe around everything single match and everything went so smoothly, leading into it there was a lot of negative stuff and no one really thought we could pull it off, but it was pulled off in absolutely spectacular fashion. I think for me, that was amazing, if we can do the World Cup football which is the biggest sporting event in the world, then we can do the Olympics, so when we didn’t bid for 2020 I was really disappointed – it would have been the first time that the Olympics comes to Africa and it would have been great to showcase our country and show the world we can host these amazing sport events. It might not be 2020, but I definitely believe it will be 2024 or 2028 – I think there will be a time for Africa.”

On her South African teammate Mari Rabie:
“It’s definitely a healthy competition, we are great friends. In our type of sport, I think with any athlete you need to have the friendship and then when you are on the start line you know you are competitors. She’s a very strong competitor, she’s very strong willed, strong minded and I think in a way it’s been really good for me to have her, I really miss her on the circuit, but we really bring out the best in each other. She’s really smart, she’s an Oxford scholar, a Rhodes scholar and she has to juggle the academics versus triathlon. I’ve made the decision to just focus on my triathlon, but I think she’s finished her first year of study in Oxford and she’ll take the next year off and try and come back and make a really big comeback on the circuit, which is great, she’s a really great athlete so if she can come back and race on the circuit that will just be wonderful. It won’t just be one athlete, there will be two of us (South Africans) really vying for that top position and that will be great.”

On developing the sport in South Africa:
“I think it would be great if we could have a World Cup or World Championship, obviously funding is always going to be a problem but it would be amazing if we could have high level racing in South Africa, get the public to see what triathlon is at this high level of sport and then you could get youngsters seeing it and wanting to try it. But that being said, we have the world champs series on TV at home which is great, so if we can do well in the world champs series and that gets broadcast at home then that’s a great way of showing the youngsters back home we can race at that top level.”

Oh her plans post-race career:
“At the moment it’s not possible to do more than training and racing but once I’ve finished I really want to get involved in developing the sport from a grassroots level. As I said, I believe we have so much talent in the country so that’s something I really want to do after triathlon. Not necessarily from a coaching perspective, but from a mentoring perspective, identifying the talent and then putting them with the right coaches and hopefully that’s something I can work towards after my triathlon career.”

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