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‘I just like Soweto’

“I JUST like Soweto and the whole vibe about it”, the women’s race victor in the 2019 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon, 32-year old mother to two children, Irvette van Zyl told a news conference inside the FNB Stadium in Nasrec on a sweltering Sunday morning, with husband and fellow athlete, LJ van Zyl, looking on in the front row.

‘I just like Soweto’


This year’s edition of now officially South Africa’s largest marathon – with 40 000 participants tackling the field – being her third consecutive triumph, she had plenty reason to like the event – and what with her pointing out that at some stage of the gruelling course, she was even joined by a bunch of kids who momentarily ran alongside her!

Fielding questions from the gathered media corps, she put her latest victory into perspective – especially pointing out that it had to be viewed from the point that it was realized on the back of a surgery she underwent in July to mitigate a seven year struggle with a physical nag on her left leg. 

Also pointing out that the heat on the day was particularly hectic in the last 10 kilometres of the 42,2km distance, Van Zyl – who took home a quarter of a million rands pay check for her early morning effort – mentioned that she didn’t start fast, just as she didn’t believe that she were any capable of breaking her standing record.  “I’m happy to have defended my title,” she offered, whilst adding that she didn’t have time in mind – upon it being pointed out that her time of 2:34:01 was 58 seconds slower than the 2:33:43 she posted in her record-breaking triumph in 2018.

Asked what her wife’s achievements meant, her ever-present and supportive husband, LJ – who was listening in on proceedings at the conference – summed up the space they found themselves both in as a couple and career athletes thus, “Well done Irvette!”

Following on the previous morning’s Springboks triumph in the IRB World Cup final at Yokohama, Van Zyl’s personal victory was in keeping up with the Proudly South African credo, especially considering how the men’s segment of the race has been dominated by foreign runners in recent memory – with this year’s edition turning out no different.

Thereat, in the absence of dominant Ethiopian athlete, Sintayehu Legese Yinesu (four-time champion in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017), countryman and first-time participant, Debeko Dakamu Dasa of Nedbank Running Club (Ethiopia) crossed the finish line in a time of 2:18:35, for his maiden victory.  Dasa was followed by Kenya’s David Kwemo Maru in 2:18:48, with another Ethiopian, Refera Merga Madesa rounding off the podium in 2:18:57.

Yinesu’s non-participation on Sunday was attributed – his manager, Belay Hagos – to a hamstring injury which has put paid to his competing in most races this year – with his last outing stretching back to February, when he won the Lagos City Marathon.

Also no different as in the hegemony exercised in the men’s competition is the iron hold foisted upon the event by erstwhile Iron Man- Nick Bester’s Nedbank Running Club – which on the day came through with the majority of the honours, scooping first and second in the men’s marathon as well as 1 through 6 in the ladies equivalent. 

At the conference, Bester understandably expressed his satisfaction at his club’s dominance of not only the Soweto race, but also those staged across the country pending the annual race calendar.             

As in previous years, the 26th running of the marathon had runners passing through eight significant heritage sites on the marathon route, namely the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Walter Sisulu Square, the Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, Morris Isaacson High School & June 16 Memorial Acre, Vilakazi Street and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. 

At the prize-giving ceremony of the popular calendar event fondly referred to as the “People’s Race” and ran across the three distances of 42.2km, 21.1km and 10km, Van Zyl’s gold medal was presented unto her by Gauteng MEC of Sport, Mbali Hlophe, who had a bronze medal (for the 10km race) of her own hung around her shoulders. 

Asked whether she was a keen runner herself, the petite and bespectacled politician humbly offered that she ran recreationally.

2019 RESULTS:

42.2KM MARATHON (Men):

1: Debeko Dakamo Dasa –            Nedbank Running Club (Ethiopia)                             2:18:35

2: David Maru –                                 Nedbank Running Club (Kenya)                                 2:18:48

3: Refera Merga Madesa –           (Ethiopia)                                                                            2:18:57

42.2KM MARATHON (Women):

1. Irvette van Zyl –                            Nedbank Running Club (South Africa)                     2:34:01

2. Selam Abere Alebachew –       Nedbank Running Club (Ethiopia)                             2:45:54

3. Gadise Getachew Bekele –      Nedbank Running Club (Ethiopia)                             2:48:19

21.1KM HALF MARATHON (Men):

1. Elroy Gelant –                                                Boxer Athletic Club (South Africa)                            1:04:53

2. Joel Mohau    –                             Nedbank Running Club (South Africa)                     1:05:50

3. Namakoe Nkhasi –                      Nedbank Running Club (Lesotho)                             1:05:58

21.1KM HALF MARATHON (Women):

1. Caroline Mhandu –                      Maxed Elite (Zimbabwe)                                              1:20:58

2. Rudo Mhonderwa –                    Nedbank Running Club (South Africa)                     1:22:06

3. Diana Lebo Phalulu –                  Boxer Athletics Club (South Africa)                          1:23:27

10KM (Men):

  1. Desmond Mokgobu –     Olifantsfontein Athletics Club (South Africa)        0:30:38
  2. Mbuleli Mathanga –        Phantane Athletics Club (South Africa)                   0:31:04
  3. Samuel Clijimpi Moloi –  Bedfordview Country Club (South Africa)             0:31:12                 

10KM (Women):

  1. Glenrose Xaba –                                Boxer Athletics Club (South Africa)                                          0:33:58
  2. Emma Pallant –                  BMC Vifit Triathlon (Great Britain)                                            0:36:05
  3. Dinah-Rose Phalula –      Johannesburg Athletics Club (South Africa)                          0:38:27

Image Jacob MAWELA (Gauteng Province MEC of Sport, Mbali Hlophe congratulated 2019 Old Mutual Soweto Marathon women’s race victor, Irvette van Zyl at the prize-giving ceremony inside FNB Stadium).

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