Mountain biker Theo Ngubane makes history at world championships


Theo Ngubane in action during the junior men’s world downhill championships; photo courtesy of

Theo Ngubane of the Kayamandi township in South Africa finished in 49th place out of 49 competitors in junior men at the recent UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Championships, but that didn't matter.

What did matter is that he competed, proving to other kids who share a similar upbringing that dreams do come true.

Ngubane, 18, became the first black South African to compete in the downhill world championships, an accomplishment both historic and inspiring.

Specialized Bicycles beautifully documents the "Success Story" in its just-released video posted on YouTube. The story is worth its 5 1/2-minute length:

Ngubane began mountain biking as part of, a social development program started in 2008 by Christoph Sauser, a multiple world champion mountain biker, and Songo Fipaza, according to Cycling News.

theo mug from provides sports and recreation to children, offers them a safe place to play and grow, establishes accountability and responsibility, teaches goal-setting, and instills in them the ability to dream and achieve their goals.

Since had a BMX track, Ngubane decided to start riding. He hit the jumps with aggressiveness, and it led him to downhill, a discipline he got pretty good at it.

Winning an event earned Ngubane a trip to watch the 2011 World Cup where he met top riders Troy Brosnan and Sam Hill, and a dream took root.

The ultimate dream came to fruition on August 30 when he competed at the world championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

“Two years ago, I never thought I’d get a bike of my own to do any riding, never mind [ride at the] world champs!" Ngubane told Cycling News before the big race. "Even now, when Bobby [Behan, managing director of Specialized Bikes in South Africa] told me I was going to world champs, I couldn’t believe it. It still hasn’t sunk in yet—that someone like me, from where I come from, could do stuff like this and go to world champs. It’s quite cool.”

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Photo is a screen grab from the video.

Unfortunately, Ngubane's performance was hindered by the weight he carried into the race. The thought of becoming the first black South African downhiller at the world championships overwhelmed him, and it stayed with him as he left the starting gate.

"I really had a lot of thoughts in my mind," he said in the video. "I was riding, but I wasn't really intact to my body. My mind was just on the track, but I couldn't really feel what I was doing."

Near the bottom of the track, fatigue hit him, too, but the screaming crowd motivated him to push harder.

"It gave me my lost energy," he said.

"Crossing the finish line, I was really tired, but I also had a sense of—I was really proud of myself, also knowing that I was the first black South African to compete at the world champions was a great feeling."

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Theo Ngubane hugging mother after race; photo is a screen grab from video

Topping it off was the fact his mother had come to watch him race for the first time. It was a special moment for Ngubane, who called it "really cool."

It was special, too, for and the kids back home.

"This means so much to so many people," Harry Orr of Specialized Bicycles, South Africa, said. "It's inspired kids of Kayamandi, the township where he's from, to not only take up cycling but to push themselves to reach their goals [and] dream big. That's what Theo's always done."