Teen talent Ramokgopa making her mark in senior ranks

By Karien Jonckheere

Tumi Ramokgopa admitted the nerves kicked in when she lined up for the 400m hurdles at the final ASA Grand Prix meet of the season in Johannesburg last week. At just 16 years old, it was only her third race against senior athletes, she explained.

But the talented teen needn’t have worried. She stormed through the field to win in a time of 57.84 seconds, just six-hundredths of a second off the personal best she set a few days before.

That personal best sees her currently sitting top in the world in the under-18 ranks and fourth on the under-20 list for the 400m hurdles.

The Paris Olympics will come too soon for Ramokgopa, but she’s set her sights firmly on the World Junior Championships in Peru this August.

“I won’t lie, I’m shocked, but I’m proud of myself. I was scared before I ran because I was like: ‘Yoh, I’m running with seniors, I’m running with women,’” but you know, sometimes age doesn’t matter so I gave it my all. And I’m just grateful to God for giving me the strength,” said a thrilled Ramokgopa after her race at UJ.

Asked what her goal for the season is, the Prestige College Hammanskraal student explained: “I’m going for the SA [junior] record in the 400m hurdles and I want to see myself at World Juniors.”

Ramokgopa is coached by George Bradley who sees plenty of potential in his young charge, thanks to her impressive work ethic.

“Her main qualities that make me excited about her future in the sport are more related to her dedication, work ethic and already having a maturity about her,” said Bradley.

“For example, I was nervous about her racing against seniors in her first season doing 400m hurdles in 2023, as she is so used to winning. But she has shown that she can race ‘like a street-fighter’ if necessary – not only a great hurdle form but real substance. Some of the training for the long hurdles can be brutal. We minimise it due to her age, but she does it with zero complaining.”

Bradley explained that Ramokgopa has progressed from the sprint hurdles to the longer event with relative ease.

“Every year she is stronger, and she has developed a tremendous instinct as a hurdler, being able to make adjustments during a race if necessary.

“Tumi is an absolute pleasure to coach as she has an ingrained work ethic, strong listening skills and yet has an independent streak which just improves her ability to complete the assignment.”

As for just how far the talented teen can go, Bradley reckoned: “What she can achieve really depends on her continued focus and ability to avoid the typical distractions of her age group. Personally, I believe she can get right to the top, not only in SA, but in the world. So much depends on her path the moment she leaves school.”

Photo by Cecelia van Bers