Cape Town’s Golden race is here

Cape Times - - SPORT - Mat­she­lane Mam­abolo

WHAT CHANCE Lungile Gongqa adding the Cape Town Marathon ti­tle to the Two Oceans gong he won ear­lier in the year?

Coach Hen­drick Ra­maala is con­fi­dent that his charge can com­plete the dou­ble. But he knows that it will take an in­spired per­for­mance on Sun­day for the South African Olympian to tri­umph.

“It is go­ing to be a very com­pet­i­tive race be­cause they’ve as­sem­bled a top-class elite field,” Ra­maala, who him­self will be run­ning the marathon, said.

That top field in­cludes record holder and de­fend­ing cham­pion Asefa Negewo of Ethiopia (2hr 08min 41sec) as well as Kenyan La­ban Mu­tai, whose 2:08:01 per­sonal best is the best of the field.

Those two run­ners, plus Mu­tai’s com­pa­triot Sa­muel Maswai (2:08:51) should be the favourites based on their times.

But road run­ning has a funny way of hum­bling even the best and the Cape Town Marathon, in par­tic­u­lar, has proven over the years to have no re­spect for rep­u­ta­tions.

And so it is with that his­tory in mind that the likes of Gongqa and his team­mates, Michael Maz­ibuko and Xolisa Tyali, will set off from the start be­liev­ing they’ll be the first to get into Green Point Sta­dium. Ra­maala would love that. “We’re go­ing to be well rep­re­sented in Cape Town and yes we be­lieve the ti­tle can come and make its home here at the Zoo,” he said of their train­ing ground at Zoo Lake in Jo­han­nes­burg.

That Gongqa is re­garded as one of the favourites is not only be­cause of his vic­tory in the Two Oceans, but also due to his great run at the same race two years ago.

In 2015, Gongqa de­liv­ered his break­through per­for­mance as he fin­ished sec­ond be­hind Shadrack Kem­boi of Kenya in a time of 2:11:59.

That feat earned him a spot in the South African team that com­peted at the Rio Olympics last year and there­after, fol­lowed that glo­ri­ous run in the Mother City in April as he cap­tured the 56km Two Oceans.

Granted that road run­ning is es­sen­tially an in­di­vid­ual sport, team work al­ways comes into play in big races and Ra­maala’s team will be work­ing to­gether to end the for­eign dom­i­na­tion.

They have Des­mond Mok­gobu as one of the pace-set­ters and should they all stick with him as he sets out to help the field achieve the sub 2:08 that the or­gan­is­ers are hop­ing for, then the ti­tle could well come to Zoo Lake.

Whether it will be brought home by Gongqa or last year’s third-place fin­isher Maz­ibuko or even Tyali, who ended ninth in 2016, re­mains to be seen.

Not that Ra­maala’s team are the only South Africans in with a chance of stopping the Kenyans and Ethiopi­ans. Far from it, for there is also Le­sotho’s Mot­lokoa Nkhabutla, whose 2:09:47 run gave him fourth spot last year.

That good fin­ish in­spired him to another bril­liant per­for­mance in the Paris Marathon where he fin­ished ninth.

He is back this year to try and move into a podium fin­ish and no doubt he will be aim­ing for the high­est spot there.

Glad­win Mzazi of Boxer Ath­let­ics Club is a good run­ner with great po­ten­tial and he has made it clear he will be de­scend­ing on the Mother City to con­quer, while track dis­tance run­ner El­roy Ge­lant is keen to make an im­pres­sion on his marathon de­but.

The women’s race will be equally in­trigu­ing, what with last year’s win­ner Tish Jones back to de­fend her ti­tle and Kenya’s Agnes Kiprop, Ethiopi­ans Betel­hem Mo­ges and Fantu Eticha as well as Ger­many’s Lisa Hah­ner all in the mix.

Add the South African trio of last year’s third-place fin­isher Le­bo­gang Phalula, Irvette van Zyl and Tanith Maxwell to the mix and you have an elite field ca­pa­ble of push­ing each other to some fan­tas­tic times.

The Cape Town Marathon is Africa’s first and only IAAF Gold La­bel Sta­tus race and come Sun­day you will get to un­der­stand why, as the elite field “fly” through the streets of the Mother City.

Who will be the win­ners? Your guess is as good as mine. But noth­ing will be grander than to have the maiden con­ti­nen­tal gold la­bel ti­tle re­main on home soil.

Pic­ture: RYAN WILKISKY, BACK­PAGEPIX

MORE SMILES AND HAPPY LEGS? Will Two Oceans Marathon cham­pion Lungile Gongqa break another win­ner’s rib­bon this week­end?

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