Atipa Mabonga is involved in her sport for all the right reasons – because she loves it.
“I really enjoy athletics and I think I would still compete even if there was no one else doing it,” said Atipa, who will be defending her Senior triple jump title at the 2015 NZSS Athletics Championships in Timaru early next month. “Winning has never been important to me, I just love the sport.”
Last December at the NZSS championships in Wanganui, then year 11 Central Southland College student Atipa broke both the championship and New Zealand U17 Senior triple jump record, with a leap of 12.21m.
In March she extended her best triple jump leap to 12.32 m in finishing third in the Australian Junior Athletics Championships. She also won the New Zealand Youth and Junior titles in Wellington in March.
In May, she won the girls’ long jump at the Oceania Area Athletics Championships in Cairns with a jump of 5.87 m. Southland Girls’ High School’s Emma Hopcroft finished third with 5.56 m. At the same meet, Atipa finished second in the senior women’s triple jump with 11.98 m and also teamed up with Emma, Olivia Eaton (New Plymouth Girls’ High School) and Ashleigh Bennett (Hawera High School) to finish second in the girls' youth 4 x 100 m relay.
Atipa had a lot of fun along the way too.
She discovered the sport growing up in Taranaki. “When we lived at Opunake, mum used to take me to the athletics club and I used to be the little girl that sat down and watched all the seniors. I loved watching them and thought they were so cool.”
Now a leading junior competitor herself, Atipa is grateful for her parents’ support. “I am really lucky to have them; they do so much for me.”
Atipa’s family moved from Zimbabwe to Opunake when she was four and then several years ago they moved to Southland. She lives in Otautau, 50 km up the road from Invercargill, and competes for the Otautau club.
There’s little margin for error in the athletics jumping events.
“A large part of getting the jump right is the timing and the rhythm of it, “Atipa explained. “During the season my training is mostly all about technique. You have to have your timing correct because a record or not can be decided by the tiniest margins.
“Last year at the Australian champs I did an amazing jump in the long jump and I was 0.5 millimetres over that board – that’s hardly anything – that could have been qualified me for the world junior or youth championships.
“Technique can also determine first or second in the jumps. Just how long you can hold your legs up and knees up can be the difference between me and my competitors. There’s one centimetre between Phoebe [Wellington’s Phoebe Edwards] and Emma Hopcroft so it’s really tight between us girls.
Atipa explained her run-up. “Your run-up is determined on what the day is like. On average my run-up is 27.30 m – but if there’s a headwind I might have to move my run-up back 30 cm or more just to get it accurate. You only get a minute to complete the jump and it might be dead still and then all of a sudden a headwind might blow at the last moment.”
In winning the NZSS athletics triple jump event last December, Atipa exceeded her expectations.
“That was a major surprise, because going into the competition I knew I was going to have to jump a good distance to place. Adriana Mawhinney [Dunstan High School] was my main rival going into last year and she had beaten me before, so I was determined to do a good jump. But when I jumped 12.21 m that was a huge shock to me. I just wanted to get one decent jump – and I did.”
In March, Atipa competed at the Australian Junior Athletics Championships – finishing third at the U18 triple jump and setting a new PB of 12.32 m.
“Then at the Oceania Championships in May I wasn’t aiming to get any medals or anything, I just wanted to experience the atmosphere of the meet and see what could do in a high pressure situation.”
Competing against seniors, Atipa finished second in Cairns, stoking her enthusiasm for a return trip. “I want to go back to the Australian Junior Championships next year and get some more amazing competition.”
Atipa and her Central Southland College classmate and world mountain running representative and NZSS steeplechase winner Jack Beaumont recently shared Southland’s Athlete of the Year award.
Atipa, Jack and nationally ranked 800 m and 1500 m runner Jordan Rackham (Southland Boys’ High School, 2014) are all coached by Lance Smith. “He is terrific. He is not only my coach, he is my friend, my granddad, and he is so cool.”
She was inspired in meeting long jump world record holder Mike Powell when he visited New Zealand last athletics season. “I got the opportunity to talk to him and he taught me just how to go for it really and that no matter what happens just enjoy it.”
Atipa finished her NCEA Level 2 exams on Monday.
Looking ahead, she said she likes the idea of gaining athletics scholarship in the USA and working as a sports physiotherapist.
“As a long-term goal I’d love to go to the Olympics, it would be a dream come true.”
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