‘It shows people from Khayelitsha that anything is possible’

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE in Cape Town

LUNGILE Gongqa lay face down and quite still under a towel on a patch of the University of Cape Town’s rugby field in Saturday morning’s bright autumnal sunshine.

Quite still, that is, except for the shudders that waves of sobs sent through his slight, spent body.

Behind him was the 56 kilometres of the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. Ahead of him was something to be remembered for besides failing to complete the marathon at last year’s Rio Olympics in the wake of a disagreement with his coach, Hendrick Ramaala.

That didn’t matter on Saturday, when Gongqa became the first Cape Town winner of the race in 44 years. He was six years from being born when Don Hartley completed his brace in 1973.

The still greater truth is that Gongqa is the first citizen of Khayelitsha to top the podium.

“That’s very important,” his wife, Ivy Gongqa, said. “It shows people from Khayelitsha that anything is possible.”

Gongqa emerged victorious after a desperate duel with Lesotho’s Warinyane Lebopo over the first five of the last six kilometres.

During those fraught few minutes Gongqa’s shoulder was never more than a hand’s breadth from Lebopo’s, and where one’s foot lifted the other’s fell with rude urgency.

“I knew I had courage and I knew I had speed,” Gongqa, who won in 03:09:43, said. “But he was so close behind me he could touch me. Then I decided I was going to run away from him for good.”

That Gongqa did. Or at least for the 1 minute, 22 seconds that separated him from Lebopo at the finish.

Both had been part of the group of 10 who staked a collective claim for glory after 42 kilometres. Two kilometres later they were down to seven runners, and before long they had dwindled to the six who would take the race deep.

Kebede Aberra Dinke, an Ethiopian who finished ninth last year, was the first of those to give up the ghost. Then Zimbabwe’s Collen Makaza, the runner-up for the past two years, fell away.

Melly Kennedy of Kenya, the initial leader of the pack, and another Lesotho runner, Teboho Sello, also disappeared into the shadows left by the rising sun.

That left Gongqa and Lebopo as the sole contenders for first place among the 7 862 men who entered the race.

The favourite among the 3 218 women was Caroline Wöstmann, but she pulled up with a hamstring injury after 11 kilometres.

By then Maryna Damantsevich, a Belarusian, was well set to take advantage of Wöstmann’s misfortune. She won in 03:37:13.

Namakoe Nkhasi set a race record of 01:03:15 in the men’s half-marathon.

Ramaala was also on the road. He rocked up more than 17 minutes after his protege.

Although he is among South Africa’s finest athletes, has competed at four Olympics and is seven years Gongqa’s senior, maybe Ramaala should defer to the younger man on running matters in future.

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