EARLY IN THE PIECE – The leaders pass through Kalk Bay. pic: Telford Vice
TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
LIKE 9 867 other South Africans, 351 from 20 other African countries, 225 Germans, 189 from the United Kingdom, 107 Netherlanders, 86 Americans, and one each from Spain, Norway, Argentina, Slovakia, Turkey, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Syria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Honduras, Thailand and Vietnam, Lungile Gongqa entered Saturday’s Two Oceans ultra-marathon.
Unlike all the others, Gongqa won.
Even less likely was that, of all those people from all those countries situated all those kilometres away, the champion was from a place 30 kilometres from both the start of the race in Main Road, Newlands and the finish at the University of Cape Town’s rugby field.
That place is Khayelitsha, or “new home”, a rough and ready, ramshackle product of apartheid’s evil city planning that boasts a gangster museum and rarely hits the headlines for good reasons.
Saturday was one of those rarities, what with Gongqa fighting off the challenge of Lesotho’s Warinyane Lebopo during the final stretches to win in 03:09:43.
That was only the last of his battles throughout the 56 kilometres of the race, and only the latest of his struggles in life.
Among the latter is a stubborn stammer that has led to Gongqa enlisting his wife, Ivy Gongqa, to speak on his behalf at press conferences.
Another was the disagreement he had with his coach, Hendrick Ramaala, at the Rio Olympics – where Gongqa crashed out of the marathon.
Along with becoming the first Khayelitshan to win the Two Oceans, Gongqa is also the first champion from Cape Town since 1973 and the first South African to triumph in the race since 2013.
Unlike Gongqa, Maryna Damantsevich had to travel 9 800 kilometres from Belarus to get to the start of the race.
But, like Gongqa, she also won – in this case the women’s race in 03:37:13.
Also unlike the men’s winner, she had a clear path to victory after the favourite and defending champion, Caroline Wöstmann, withdrew with a hamstring injury after 11 kilometres.
If only things were that simple …
“Someone bumped into me at the start and I fell a few times,” Damantsevich said with the help of translation by her coach, Anatoliy Bychkov.
“I thought I was in second place but I couldn’t find the woman in front of me, so I ran faster to catch up.”
She was well ahead after 20 kilometres and won with more than 10 minutes to spare.