Updated 26 February 2008
Mbulaeni MULAUDZI , South Africa (800m)
Born: 8 Sept 1980, Venda, Limpopo Province, South Africa (nr Zimbabwe border). 1.71m/62kg.
Third of four children (1 boy, 3 girls)
Coach: J.P. van der Merwe; Club: University of Johannesburg
He may not have lacked courage on the track but, in 2000, when Mbulaeni Mulaudzi met Hezekiel Sepeng, his South African countryman, for the first time, his nerve failed him. Sepeng, the 1996 Olympic 800m silver medallist, was idolized by Mulaudzi but the raw young prospect did not have the pluck to tell him that he was his hero.
Two years after that meeting in Johannesburg they met again. This time it was in Paris, where they shared a hotel room at a Golden League meeting. "He told me when he was a student that he wanted to be like me," recalled Sepeng. "He never thought he was going to beat me." But Mulaudzi did just that the very next day.
Mulaudzi took part in soccer and athletics in school, beginning serious track training after representing the Northern Province in the national championships at 17 (4th 800m 1:55; 3rd 1500m 4:00). Realising how close he was to the 3:52 winner in the 1500m encouraged him to train, which he did at his school, Kutama Secondary, under his teacher, Makonde Makhumisane. The son of a policeman, he won the 1998 national schools 800m in 1:52 and improved to 1:50 later that year.
In 1999, Mulaudzi won national junior championship and followed up with the African Junior title (1:49.13) in Tunis. In 2000, he took silver at the senior African Championships in Algiers (1:46.28) and notched a 1:45.55 PB in Budapest. But he narrowly missed selection for the Olympic Games in Sydney, He improved to 1:44.01 in 2001 and finished 6th at the World Championships in Edmonton (1:45.01).
In 2002 Mulaudzi made his international mark, recording an upset victory to win the 800m at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester (1:46.32). He followed that up by taking the bronze medal at the African Championships, in Tunis, and by setting a 1:43.81 PB in Zurich.
Late in 2002 Mulaudzi struggled with knee and ankle injuries. He was not fully fit until June 2003, when he recorded a 1:43.25 PB in Rehlingen. Then, at the World Championships, in Paris, Sepeng said after the first round: "If things are not going right, definitely one of us has to get a medal. If things are going right, we can get 1st and 2nd."
Things did not go right, at least not for Sepeng. Mulaudzi finished 3rd (1:44.90) with Sepeng 7th in a final won by Algeria’s Djabir Said Guerni. "I think Mbuli is a great athlete,” said Sepeng. “I think there is more to come." There was. Overall in 2003, Mulaudzi beat Sepeng 13 times in 16 races. Furthermore, that season he dipped below 1:43 for the first time, recording 1:42.89 in Brussels.
After his marked improvement through 2002 and 2003, he took his first global title at the 2004 World Indoor Championships in Budapest (1:45.71), beating future (2005) outdoor 800 and 1500m world champion Rashid Ramzi, of Bahrain. The following summer, after an unpromising two weeks on the Grand Prix circuit, he produced a silver medal run in the Athens Olympic final (1:44.61).
Bothered by a niggling calf injury after the Golden League meeting in Oslo, 2005 proved a disappointment for Mulaudzi. Feeling the pressure as a favourite at the World Championships in Helsinki, he failed to qualify for the final.
Shortly before the 2003 World Championships, Mulaudzi had left his coach, Ian Harries, but returned after about a year. Then they parted again, and since October 2005 he has been with J.P. van der Merwe, Sepeng’s former coach. “I am happy, in good shape, enjoying myself in the new training group, and really looking forward to the defence of my Indoor and Commonwealth titles in March,” he said early in 2006.
But successful defences were not to be and 2006 and 2007 will not stand out as the greatest period in Mulaudzi’s career. He left South Africa in top shape for the two events in Moscow and Melbourne but was spiked towards the finish of the indoor final. Although winning the silver medal, he was so seriously hurt that, rather than go to Australia, he returned to Johannesburg for surgery.
It was not until late in July that Mulaudzi joined the European circuit. He made his presence felt from the outset and won in Helsinki, Zurich, Monaco, Stuttgart, and Rieti, where he set the world’s fastest time of the year (1:43.09). In between his European races, he flew to Mauritius for the African Championships where the weather was so bad that he did not put himself out and settled for a sixth place.
Struck by further bad luck early in 2007, Mulaudzi picked up another leg injury while running a 400m PB of 46.3 in Germiston. It sidelined him again to such an extent that he did not join the European season until mid July. Again, though, he was well prepared. He recorded the fastest 800m of 2007 (1:43.74) in Monaco and succeeded, in Stockholm, in breaking the oldest of all South African records, the 1000 metres. He clocked 2:15.86, narrowly eclipsing the 2:16.0, which was also a world record at the time, set by Danie Malan, in Munich, in 1973.
The World Championships, in Osaka, were a disappointment for Mulaudzi. He started as one of the favourites, and impressed during the early rounds, but a very slow first lap did not suit him and he had to be content with seventh place in the final. He was hoping to run a fast 1500m at one of the top meetings after Osaka, and to break the South African and African 800m records of Sepeng (1:42.69 /1999) and Kenya’s Sammy Koskei (1:42.28 /1984). But it did not work out and they will surely remain on his agenda.
Mulaudzi’s native language is Venda but he also speaks Sotho and English. He lives in Johannesburg and formerly studied sports management and marketing at Vaal Triangle Technicon. But now he concentrates on his career as an athlete. He got married in December with his wedding one of the main social events in the Venda area where he grew up.
The 2008 World Indoor Championships, in Valencia, where he hopes to build on his 2004 gold and 2006 silver, will be his only indoor competition of 2007. He showed good form in his first race of the year, in Germiston on 22 February, when he easily qualified for Beijing with a fast 1min 45.25sec.
400m: 46.3 (2007)
800m: 1:42.89 (2003); 1:45.43i (2004)
1000m: 2:15.86 (2007)
1500m: 3:39.70 (2002). .
800m: 1998: 1:50.33; 1999:1:48.33; 2000: 1:45.55; 2001: 1:44.01; 2002: 1:43.81; 2003: 1:42.89; 2004: 1:45.65 (1:45.43i); 2005: 1:44.08; 2006 – 1:43.09; 2007 – 1:43.74; 2008 – 1:45.25.
1999 1st African Junior Championships (1:49.13)
2000 2nd African Championships (1:46.28)
2001 6th World Championships (1:45.01)
2002 1st Commonwealth Games (1:46.32)
2002 3rd African Championships (1:46.20)
2003 3rd World Championships (1:44.90)
2003 2nd All Africa Games (1:46.44)
2004 1st World Indoor Championships (1:45.71)
2004 2nd Olympic Games (1:44.61)
2006 2nd World Indoor Championships (1:47.16)
2006 3rd World Cup (1:45.14)
2006 1st World Athletics Final (1:46.99)
2007 2nd All Africa Games (1:45.54)
2007 7th World Championships (1:47.52)
2007 2nd World Athletics Final (1:45.67)
Prepared by Gert le Roux and Sabrina Yohannes for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.