Soweto Marathon brings out the best -yet again- from an Ethiopian

South African distance running queen, Irvette van Zyl raised her arms in triumph upon finishing the Old Mutual Soweto Marathon whilst posting a new course record clocked at 2-33-43. All images Jacob MAWELA.

Former Iron Man, Nick Bester’s Nedbank Running Club’s Ethiopian athlete, Sintayehu Legese Yinesu broke the tape at the finish line clock registering, 2:19:10  – as he claimed “The People’s Race” for an unprecedented fourth time in the men’s category.

With an impressive 30 000 runners, numbering among them, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Premier David Makhura, Sports and Recreation Minister, Thokozile Xasa, Gauteng MEC for Sports and Faith Mazibuko taking to the course on an early Sunday morning, with the standard marathon (42.2 km) starting at 06:00, the half marathon (21.1 km) following at 06:30 and the 10 km race’s gun sounding off at 07:00 – the popular run once again delivered on what the title sponsor’s Head of Brand Thobile Tshabalala described as “a cultural running experience that can compete with the very best!”

The road race’s route also attested to the Soweto Marathon Trust Chairman Sello Khunou’s promise of a fantastic, fun-filled experience and enjoyable run on the beautiful Soweto streets!  What with it traversing landmarks honouring Soweto’s rich history and runners passing eight significant heritage sites on the marathon route, namely the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, Regina Mundi Catholic Church, the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, Morris Isaacson High School & June 16 Memorial Acre, Vilakazi Street and the Hector Pieterson Memorial?

On running matters themselves, 31-year old Van Zyl, with arms raised and fist pumping as she curled the tape at the finish around a svelte waistline belying the fact that her remarkable triumph was achieved a mere five months after having given birth to her second son, shaved some two minutes plus off a previous 2014 record set by Ethiopia athlete, Mengisti Meseret Biruin.

With a string of routine 10 kilometres titles already accrued under her genetically-imbued figure, the home-grown elite runner invariably referred to as South Africa’s sweetheart or queen of South African distance running stole the thunder from underneath a past diadem monopoliser in the form of Mamorallo Tjoka – whom she edged to second position by some three minutes.

Tjoka was spotted squatted over and under the throes of a coughing fit, a few meters from the finish line.  At the post event press conference, Tjoka attributed the fit to flu she’d had to contend with for a fortnight leading up to the race – somehow hinting that the affliction affected her performance on the day.

2016 victor and fellow Nedbank Running Club teammate, Ethiopian Selam Abere Alebachew rounded off the podium occupants in the ladies marathon.

Describing 2018 as “the best year for the Van Zyls” [her ever-supportive husband, LJ, having been voted TUKS Athlete of the Century], Irvette, addressing a rendezvous of media practitioners, expressed her surprise of seeing the record-setting time she had just clocked of an early sunny morning where she picked up a tidy quarter million rands for being a race winner!  Further describing LJ as a “super daddy” Van Zyl, expounded on the good fortune she was currently experiencing and stopping short of declaring an audit of good career tidings – also revealed that she tended to injure herself through over-training.

For some reason unbeknownst to the race organizers, last year’s second-placed runner as well as Soweto citizen, Mapaseka Makhanya’s absence among the ladies roster was conspicuous.

In the men’s affair, it appears that the nation still has to wait quite a while longer for a local champion since 2014, 2015, 2016 winner, Yinesu, put behind his disappointment of missing out on first position in 2017, to romp to a fourth win.

Lesotho’s Lebenya Nkoka came in second whilst Yinesu’s fellow countryman, Daba Ifa Debele completed the men’s podium.

The course through the world-renown neighbourhood was something to behold with regard to the antics of some locals, as was the case with some grey bearded character who, as early as it were on a Sunday morning, already clung to a 750ml beer bottle and, as if prompted by artist, Andy Warhol’s prediction ultimately morphed into a prophecy that anyone would get their 15 minutes of fame, decided to enthusiastically join the frontrunners for some brief sprint on Koma Road near the Jabulani CBD, in front of a bike carrying an SABC cameraman providing the live feed into households nationwide.

Earlier on pending the presser, after it had been put to Yinesu via an interpreter whether he’d be open to imparting some of his winning regimen with aspirant male runners – Bester confirmed matter-o’-fact that the Ethiopian was open to South African athletes training with him in his home country.

Two of the local men who are past winners of the marathon, Joshua Peterson [1998 and 1999] and Jerry Modiga [who holds the distinction of being the race’s very first winner back in 1991] were spotted hurdled around Xasa and Mazibuko in the stadium’s hospitality lounge for a trip down memory lane.  With the duo and the politicians, was a veteran of the Mamabolo clan, Lebowakgomo-based Titus who informed the author that he was the first African to earn Springbok colours back in 1975.

Ethiopian athlete, Sintayehu Legese Yinesu crossed the finish line of the men’s Old Mutual Soweto Marathon inside the FNB Stadium at Nasrec for his fourth triumph of the race.

For those in the athletics fraternity, the septuagenarian Mamabolo is of course related to erstwhile Comrades Marathon winner, Ludwick and The Star newspaper’s sports editor and dedicated runner, Matshelane.

With some nursing cramps and still catching their breaths, former Two Oceans Marathon winner, Thulani Sibisi introduced the late athletics boss, Banele Sindane’s daughter, Landiwe Ntlokwana to the minister and the MEC.

With a medal dangling around her torso, Ntlokwana, who had earlier partook in the 21, 1 kilometre segment revealed that not only was she daddy’s girl, but that she was a top cross-country runner in her Matric year – adding that Sindane was also her coach.

Donning a bright-coloured tutu, Mazibuko, in the manner of inner-city hommies, ululated “Tjovitjos” as she revealed that she had participated in a 10 kilometre walk, excitedly declaring: “It’s fun to walk!”  Xasa also said that she took part in the 10 kilometre race, adding, “I enjoyed it”, and hinting at coming back to tackle the course again.  With their minders on hand to ensure that the fine print was in order as they related it to the media contingent, the politicians then expounded on an initiative named, Move for Health – meant to drive the much-vaunted social cohesion and nation building, and in which citizens are encouraged to walk at least 5km weekly.

And on the post event press release provided to the media, Race Director for the third time, Danny Blumberg, commented on how the event seemed to be making huge strides – and furthermore quoted expressing being thrilled to see how the running community, whether it be the runners themselves or the support and services crew, pulled together for such a great cause.

“We work on this event all year round and we believe that we’ve delivered an event that South Africans can be proud of!” concluded the meticulous Blumberg.

The following are a summary of male and female podium finishers in all the distances:

Men’s 42,2km:

  1. Sintayehu Legese Yinesu [Nedbank Running Club] – 2:19:10
  2. Lebenya Nkoka [Nedbank Running Club] – 2:20:31
  3. Daba Ifa Debele [Nedbank Running Club] – 2:21:13

Women’s 42,2km:

  1. Irvette van Zyl [Nedbank Running Club] – 2:33:43
  2. Mamorallo Tjoka [Nedbank International Running Club] – 2:37:12
  3. Selam Abere Alebachew [Nedbank Running Club] – 2:44:50

Men’s 21,1km:

  1. Elroy Gelant [Boxer Athletics Club] – 1:07:02
  2. Philani Buthelezi [KPMG Running Club] – 1:08:22
  3. Samuel Molefi [Impala Running Club] – 1:08:44

Women’s 21,1km:

  1. Betha Chikanga [Maxed Elite] – 1:17:16
  2. Caroline Mhandu [Maxed Elite] – 1:20:49
  3. Christine Kalmer [KPMG Running Club] – 1:20:57

Men’s 10km:

  1. Desmond Mokgobu [Oliphants Athletic Club] – 31:05
  2. Kabelo Melamu [KPMG] – 31:21
  3. Sylvester Koko [Diacore Gaborone Marathon] – 31:28

Women’s 10km:

  1. Glenrose Xaba [Boxer Athletics Club] – 35:25
  2. Lebogang Luthuli [Boxer Athletics Club] – 37:34
  3. Diana Lebo Phalula [Boxer Athletics Club] – 39:07

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