|2012 Johannesburg Championship qualifiers
|Benedict Moene, Phule Gearge Mofokeng, Samuel Segohba, Nkululeko Zamisa
|Glaria Baeba, Takalane Ntaulane, Violet Rasebova, Catherine Skosana
|Olebogeng Masire, Cathrine Naane, Matsidiso Pesa, Paul Thipane
JOHANNESBURG, May 3, 2012 — Gold Fields has fashioned one of the most stellar records in the history of the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge. But, it didn't come without a certain amount of frustration.
That frustration finally ended in 2008 when Gold Fields won the mixed team title at New York in the J.P Morgan Corporate Challenge Championship. They followed that up two years later in the heat and humidity of Singapore to again win the mixed team title at the 2010 Series finale.
Now, they are going for their third Championship title, again in the mixed division.
On May 24, Gold Fields — along with the men's and women's championship teams from longtime rival and powerhouse Transnet — will represent Johannesburg at the 29th annual Series Championship. The men's, women's and mixed team champions from each city will square off in a 3.5-mile Championship that will be run just prior to the start of the regularly scheduled JPMorgan Chase & Co. Corporate Challenge in Chicago's Grant Park.
For two-time Olympian Sydney Mdluli, the enthusiastic Head of Group Sport at Gold Fields, success has been sweet. He recalls the "agonizingly" close defeats suffered by Gold Fields in the early years at Johannesburg, which debuted in 2004. The frustration culminated at the 2007 Series Championships at New York City, where Gold Fields' men's team ran one of the fastest times in history - 1:06:35. Despite that, Gold Fields came up just seconds short of Transnet.
And, one of Gold Field's runners — Olebogeng Masire — scorched the 3.5-mile Park Avenue course in New York with a torrid time of 15:57. Nonetheless, he also came up just short of victory, losing to Transnet's Enos Matalane, who just happened to run a Championship record 15:54.
To further add to the frustration, Gold Fields also came in second in the mixed division, this time falling short against another legendary Corporate Challenge team, Royal Mail Letters of London.
But, Mdluli and Gold Fields saw promise in the close defeats.
"From there," said Mdluli, "it was just a matter of time for us to “blow.”
Gold Fields' winning team at Singapore (from left): Sydney Sizwe Mdluli, Puselefso Maema, Patrick Sefako, Puseletso Thiane, Ntiti “Biltong” Konana and coach Adam “Tanui” Motlagale.
They did in the 2008 Championships. Masire returned to run 16:04 to finally get the breakthrough win for Gold Fields in the mixed team division. Then came the win at Singapore, which impressed Mdluli and team coach, Adam Motlagale, even more.
"It is hard to appreciate what Gold Fields achieved on that warm April afternoon last year," said Mdluli, whose team finished more than 10 minutes faster than the previous year's winner.
"This was done," said Mdluli, "with ordinary, fulltime, hardworking mine workers who just got together for four weeks of intensive training with one aim - to go to what they termed 'our Olympics.' Being a veteran of more than one Olympic Games (Seoul and Barcelona), I can tell you the fire in their eyes scared even me."
Fast forward to this year's Championship, and much has changed for Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest sustainable producers of gold from eight operating mines in Australia, Ghana, Peru and South Africa.
For starters, Gold Fields comes into this year's Championship as only the ninth fastest seeded team among the 13 mixed squads competing at Chicago.
"At Gold Fields," Mdluli said, "the days of recruiting employees just for sporting prowess are long gone. We employ willing workers who voluntary join us by their desire to associate with our brand that over the years just speaks for itself."
And, part of the Gold Fields' brand is a culture of challenging employees to be the best they can be, which includes fitness, health and sports.
"Upon one proving his God-given talent after being exposed to our good sporting facilities, coaching and general infrastructure across most of the group, they do catch our attention as sport practitioners where our mandate is to then support and nurture them to their fullest potential," said Mdluli. "The primary task for me and my team is to create a climate conducive to the over 45,000 employees (of Gold Fields) to not just to want to partake in regular sport, but to feel a built-in need to do so."
That philosophy and program resulted in Gold Fields winning the mixed team title at Johannesburg by more than 10 minutes — even in its new era.
"We were surprised by the margin of victory," said Mdluli. "The team competed well beyond our wildest expectations. Then again, it’s in the Gold Fields culture to always continuously push harder and harder to greater heights, never confined to only the work place but every area of any Gold Fields employee. Sport is no exception."
This year's team is again headed by Masire, whose first name of Olebogeng has given way to a new nickname.
"Flash is the name he has inherited through his hard work and rapid ascendancy to the pinnacle of South African track and road running," said Mdluli. "What a talent. We are very proud to have him as a member of this great organization and running club."
Among the performances helping make that nickname stick was his most recent Corporate Challenge effort — a 16:57 run on March 8 that brought him his first individual title at Johannesburg. Masire won by an impressive margin of 22 seconds in what is always a highly competitive race.
To say he is looking forward to running in Chicago may be a bit of an understatement.
"I want to win the race for South Africa with my teammates, then go to take a picture at the Chicago Bull coliseum next to the Air Jordan statue," said Masire. "I've only seen it on TV. I just love Michael Jordan. His skills make all sportsmen want to bow down, and if he can ever be around at that time I will pay him ALL my allowance for a photo and autograph."
And, despite their relatively slow seeded time, don't count this team out of winning again. They certainly aren't.
"As much as we are as we are far from last year’s powerhouse, defending our title is paramount," said Motlagale, the team's coach.
"We want to defend our title at the least," said Masire, echoed strongly by team members Cathrine Naane, Matsidiso Pesa, and Paul Thipane.
At the very least, the effort will make for another interesting chapter in the long and storied history of Gold Fields at the Corporate Challenge.