Marathon Man back to re­al­ity

Spurred on by his record-break­ing Com­rades win, the ath­lete is run­ning on plenty

CityPress - - News -

Watched by sev­eral mil­lions glob­ally, David Gatebe took the last step over the fin­ish line with the vic­tory rib­bon pulled on his chest as he wrapped up his im­pres­sive run, timed at five hours, 18 min­utes and 19 sec­onds – and in so do­ing, clocked up a new Com­rades Marathon men’s record last week. Tak­ing just a few more steps – still ooz­ing with en­ergy – he took to the ground and did six full press-ups. “I wanted to show that I could still go for an­other 5km or 10km. I was overly pre­pared for the race and af­ter achiev­ing my goal of win­ning it, I felt an over­whelm­ing en­ergy rush at the fin­ish line,” he told City Press three days later.

The 35-year-old fa­ther of two re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion at the prize-giv­ing cer­e­mony. He has since been in­un­dated with re­quests for in­ter­views and ap­pear­ances. But he could not wait to get home, he said.

Against the back­drop of a dark-grey plat­inum mine dump – deep in the un­der­de­vel­oped area that is Sun­rise Park in Rusten­burg – stands a mix­ture of houses, built as part of gov­ern­ment’s re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme, as well as shacks. One such shack, with two rooms and no front win­dows, has been stand­ing aban­doned un­til Gatebe’s ar­rival. This is the place he calls home.

“It is back to re­al­ity now. I am home,” he said, as he ar­rived there early on Tues­day evening, to the warm wel­come of a hand­ful of cheer­ing neigh­bours. But it was not quite back to nor­mal­ity, he ad­mit­ted. It seemed as if ev­ery­one in Sun­rise Park, Ex­ten­sion 11, was aware that they were now liv­ing close to the man who smashed the pres­ti­gious 89km marathon record last Sun­day.

De­spite this, Gatebe was of the opin­ion that he was not a pop­u­lar guy in the neigh­bour­hood. He was soon proven wrong, as peo­ple walked past, ask­ing what was hap­pen­ing amid the buzz in his fence­less yard.

Upon es­tab­lish­ing the facts, sev­eral of these passers-by joined a queue in wait­ing their turn to con­grat­u­late him.

It had been al­most two months since Gatebe left his shack for a train­ing camp in Dull­stroom, Mpumalanga. He was look­ing for­ward to a peace­ful night at home, far from the lime­light that had over­whelmed him last Sun­day, the day that changed his life for­ever.

The ath­lete be­lieves that his for­tune started shap­ing up in 2012, when he met sports man­ager Blackie Swart, who worked at JSE-listed plat­inum pro­ducer Im­pala Plat­inum Mines (Im­plats) in Rusten­burg. Gatebe, at the time a petrol sta­tion at­ten­dant and a strug­gling ath­lete, had just won a lo­cal 10km race in Rusten­burg – and had bro­ken that record. Swart was im­pressed.

“We chat­ted and, af­ter a while, we agreed that I would or­gan­ise for him to come and work with me, so I could train him and ex­pose him to what he loved to do most – athletics,” said Swart.

“That is how he joined Im­plats as a sports clerk. He never looked back and went on to train hard every day, with­out fail­ure. He won the Two Oceans Marathon in 2013 and ran the Com­rades the very same year. He was only be­gin­ning, and al­ways knew what he was work­ing to­wards – win­ning the race in the end.”

Gatebe fin­ished 24th in his first Com­rades at­tempt, 21st the fol­low­ing year in 2014 and 18th in 2015.

No longer pre­pared to take small strides to­wards his dream of vic­tory, he took aim for top po­si­tion this year – achiev­ing it, and shat­ter­ing the nine-year record held by Rus­sia’s Leonid Shvetsov in the process.

“I could not wait any longer; I was well pre­pared men­tally and phys­i­cally,” he said.

“I knew [I could win] seven weeks into train­ing at the camp with my new team, TomTom – and I told ev­ery­one that I was ready to take it [the prize] home.

“I started pick­ing up my pace from the 31km point. And at 10km be­fore the fin­ish line, I felt com­fort­able that I was go­ing to break the record. My aim was to break it at five hours, 19 min­utes – but when I looked at the clock, I dis­cov­ered I did even bet­ter by a minute,” he smiles in sat­is­fac­tion.

The third of five sib­lings, Gatebe hails from Mao­keng town­ship near Kroon­stad in the Free State. He came to

DAVID GATEBE

Rusten­burg af­ter com­plet­ing ma­tric in 2004.

He wanted to study mar­ket­ing, but fi­nances held him back. “I ended up work­ing as a petrol at­ten­dant and find­ing so­lace in athletics. It is for this rea­son that I am not go­ing to waste my prize money, but will in­vest it to en­sure that my chil­dren [four-year-old Lear­a­betswe and one-year-old Tshireletso] get a bet­ter fu­ture – the best ed­u­ca­tion that I never got,” he said.

With just over R1 mil­lion in cash prizes des­tined for his bank ac­count, Gatebe said he was hop­ing that his life would re­main nor­mal.

“This is where it all be­gan for me. I have been here for nine years and am not about to leave this shack. Nor my job. I have missed my home and look for­ward to a good night’s sleep,” he said as he opened the door to his dark shack, look­ing for a can­dle and a match to light the house.

His fu­ture plans? “Run­ning and more run­ning,” was his re­ply.

He is al­ready think­ing about the next race in terms of where he will de­fend his ti­tle – or im­prove on his own new record.

“I am look­ing for­ward to next year’s Com­rades Marathon, which is an up-run – my favourite. My aim is to take the bar even higher in terms of my record,” he said.

PHOTO: LUCKY NX­U­MALO

HUM­BLE CHAMP David Gatebe, who won this year’s Com­rades Marathon down-run in record time, will in­vest his cash prize in his chil­dren’s fu­ture and re­main in the mod­est shack he calls home

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