South African triathlete Mhlengi Gwala, 26, was training in the coastal city of Durban, when unknown assailants threw him off his bike and attempted to saw off his legs, according to the Associated Press.
Gwala's fellow South African triathlete Henri Schoeman took to Twitter and said that Gwala's three attackers were unsuccessful in completely cutting off his legs due to having a dull blade. If there's anything worse than having your legs chainsawed off—it's certainly having it done slowly.
Gwala, considered one of the country's top triathletes, underwent surgery after the dull blade sawed into his right calf and damaged muscle, nerves, and even his bone. Per the AP, the director of the elite athlete program in KwaZulu-Natal province, Dennis Jackson, said surgeons are optimistic they can save Gwala's leg because the attackers missed a main artery.
After being attacked in the hours before dawn on Tuesday, Gwala crawled to the road to flag down a car to take him to the hospital.
The full motive behind the attack is still unclear.
There was no immediate explanation for why Gwala was targeted and Jackson said the athlete had been attacked despite offering his cell phone, wallet and bicycle to the assailants. “I have never heard of any enemies that he may have,” Jackson said. “He is a wonderful ambassador for the sport.”
Gwala's athletic sponsor Sue de la Porte, however, claimed that the initial motive seemed to be robbery, but things escalated shortly after. "He tried offering them his cellphone and money," de la Porte said, per News24. "But they pinned him down and tried to saw off his leg."
South Africa's deputy sports minister Gert Oosthuizen said that police are investigating the incident, which he described as "totally unacceptable." That's putting it lightly.