Legend guides Green Dream Team’s Olympic hopefuls
Nedbank Running Club boss Nick Bester has roped in legendary runner Hendrick Ramaala as a coach to help guide a group of local Olympic marathon hopefuls ahead of the 2016 Rio Games.
The group is made up of, among other prominent athletes, Sibusiso Nzima (29), Michael Mazibuko (29), Lungile Gongqa (36) and Xolisa Tyali (27), who have all breached the 2:17:00 Olympic-qualifying standard entry time over the 42km distance.
Another member, Folavio Sehohle (25) is hoping to qualify in the 1 500m.
Ramaala, himself a member of the club’s Green Dream Team, said: “I had this idea in 2013 but it couldn’t take off. I couldn’t say no to Nick when he showed interest in my programme, because this was long overdue.”
Bester said the club was aiming to help as many athletes as possible to qualify for the Olympics.
“Hendrick was appointed head coach for this project and we believe he is the guy who will bring the best out of the athletes. We try to support the athletes in all their needs to achieve this by means of retainers, accommodation and food subsidies, running shoes, running gear, supplements, transport and [race] entries,” said Bester, a former Comrades Marathon champion.
The group already attained significant success this year when they claimed four places in the men’s top 10 at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in September.
Gongqa came second; Mazibuko third; Nzima sixth. Ramaala secured the 10th spot, which also placed him first in the 40-49-year-old category.
“Group training is very important and it has been quite exciting training with this group,” said Ramaala, following a morning workout at the Zoo Lake grounds in Johannesburg on Thursday.
He described the scenic recreational facility fondly as his “spiritual place”. He started preparing there in the 1990s and was still doing so during the time when he reached glory in the New York Marathon in 2004.
“I am historically connected to this park; I grew up here and, hopefully, it will rub off on my charges,” he chuckled.
Ramaala emphasised long-term planning as key to moulding top marathon runners.
“Putting up the programmes and planning is key if we are to achieve big things on the international stage. As leaders, we sometimes have to self-criticise because we always prepare late in the build-up to major competition. I want to see this project succeeding.”
Ramaala, with a season-best time of 2:17:12, has not ruled himself out of contention for Rio, as he, together with Gongqa, Mazibuko and Tyali, have entered the Mumbai Marathon in India on January 17.
Nzima will race in Spain in February while Sehohle will run a 10km race in Angola on New Year’s Eve.
The group trains from Sunday to Friday and takes Saturdays off, although coach Hendrick Ramaala trains every day.
Sundays involve long runs of 40-42km.
The runners cover a distance of 21km on weekdays, with morning runs that are made up of laps around Joburg’s Zoo Lake. The evening sessions involve speed running.
“I used my connection in Mumbai and Angola to get the guys international exposure,” said Ramaala.
“I am finishing my career and it is now more about the new generation.”
So far, Stephen Mokoka has run the fastest marathon time by a local this year – a 2:07:38 at the Shanghai Marathon last month – and he is the first in the queue to Rio while Ramaala’s charges, Gongqa (2:11:59), Mazibuko (2:12:29) and Nzima (2:15:38), are not far off.
“I am confident they’ll make the team. We are just trying to use the [marathon] qualifying period before the April cut-off date,” said Ramaala.
THE GREEN DREAM TEAM Marathon legend Hendrick Ramaala (third from right), takes his Nedbank Running Club charges through their paces at Zoo Lake in Joburg. From left to right are Zongamele Dyubeni, Michael Papi Mazibuko, Maxime Chaumeton, Katleho Monaheng, Lungile Gongqa, Folavio Sehohle, Ramaala, Jacob Malefo and Xolisa Tyali