A Lesotho national wins the 24th edition of the Soweto Marathon

Soweto Marathon ain’t for the faint hearted. Previous winner Ethiopian Sintayehu Legese Yinesu (left) 2017 winner and Lesotho national Tsepo Mathibelle from Ha-Mabote and Ntsindiso Mphakathi, posing with their loot at the Soweto Marathon presentation. Images JACOB MAWELA.

From a South African perspective, his victory didn’t present the ideal scenario to complement that of Irvette van Zyl ending the foreign stranglehold in not only the women’s section – but the men’s overall!  Van Zyl’s win was the first by a local in all of eight years – whilst it seems it will be quite a while before local male athletes put an end to the foreign domination of their category.

Mathibelle, who represents Durban’s Phantane AC and who earns his keep from running, improved on his second placing in last year’s race, and in winning – shaved two minutes from his time in 2016.

He was also participating in the marathon with his identical twin brother, Tsepang.

A soft-spoken athlete who has a sister and another brother, Mathibelle has already represented the Kingdom of Lesotho at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympics and now has his gaze firmly set on next year’s Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.

Despite his relatively young age, Mathibelle’s running resume already boasts  a win in 2014’s Heroes Marathon as well as commendable top 10 placings at races at far fields such as China and South Korea.

Women’s victor, Irvette van Zyl, by her candid admission, hadn’t expected to win as she thought it out of reach and on third asking – considered it third time lucky, as in the recent past, she’d had to contend with setbacks such as not finishing and actually once ending up in a taxi.

Her triumph was remarkable given that at one stage she had to cede her lead in order to answer to the call of nature and thereafter, after some determined pushing – overtook debutante and fellow South African, Mapaseka Makhanya all the way to the finish after also holding off the challenge of defending Ethiopian champion, Selam Abere Alebachew.

At the prize awarding ceremony inside Nasrec’s FNB Stadium, tears flowed freely on van Zyl’s cheeks as Gauteng Premier, David Makhura placed a medal around her shoulders.  She described experiencing goose bumps at hearing the cheers of the crowd and upon realising that her victory meant bringing the title back to South Africa.

Second place finisher, Makhanya, who in spite of being synonymous in running circles, was actually making her debut in what is literally a hometown race – the marathon has always been one she’d been intending to tick off her bucket list and taking in the crowd support for her meant that she just couldn’t let them down.  With a smirk and with van Zyl seated next to her at the post-race press conference, she let it be known that she hoped to come back and turn the tables.

Quizzed by Soweto Marathon Trust Chairman Sello Khunou whether he intended coming back himself, deposed champion Yinesu, who put down his failure to secure a fourth triumph on a leg injury he carried, offered through an interpreter that indeed he’d be extending his association with the race.

Women’s winner Irvette Van Zyl and second placed Mapaseka Makhanya.

Participants setting off included some 600 underprivileged athletes hosted the night before the marathon in the Runners Village at the Morris Isaacson High School, opposite the June 16 Memorial Acre – brought about after organisers noted over the years that because the marathon attracted many runners from all over the world – a certain percentage of these runners were unable to pay for accommodation due to circumstances beyond their control.

Local residents of the various neighbourhoods of Greater Soweto didn’t disappoint in lending vociferous support to the unending stream of joggers as some on their ways to work or church, ululated, whistled or hooted whilst lining up kerbs with some tugging along pets.

Final results:

Men’s 42km:

  1. Tsepo Mathibelle (Phantane Athletics Club): 2:19:41
  2. Sintayethu Legese Yinesu (Nedbank Running Club): 2:20:56
  3. Ntsindiso Mphakathi (Nedbank Running Club): 2:21: 23

Women’s 42km:

  1. Irvette Van Zyl (Nedbank Running Club): 2:41:06
  2. Mapaseka Makhanya (Nedbank Running Club): 2:44:37
  3. Selam Abere Alebachew (Nedbank Running Club): 2:46:33

Men’s 21km:

  1. David Manja (Nedbank Running Club): 1:06:14
  2. Elroy Gelant (Boxer Athletic Club): 1:07:16
  3. Tebello Ramakongoana (Phantane Athletics Club): 1:07: 53


Women’s 21km:

  1. Patience Murowe (Nedbank Running Club): 1:21:56
  2. Betha Chikanga (Maxed Elite): 1:22:52
  3. Christine Kalmer (KPMG Running Club): 1:24:50

Men’s 10km:

  1. Namakoe Lucky Nkasi (Nedbank Running Club): 30:52
  2. Sibabalwe Gladwin Mzazi (Transnet): 30:55
  3. Thabang Mosiako (Nedbank Running Club): 30:59

Women’s 10km:

  1. Glenrose Xaba: 35:33
  2. Rutendo Nyahora (Nedbank Running Club): 35:42
  3. Dinah-Rose Phalula (Boxer Athletic Club): 36:26

Prize money for the full marathon (men’s and women’s races):

First place: R220 000

Second place: R120 000

Third place: R90 000

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