Marathon Man back to reality
Spurred on by his record-breaking Comrades win, the athlete is running on plenty
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
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.
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