Pres­sure mounts on SA stars to win Peo­ple’s Race

Le­sotho na­tional is de­fend­ing the ti­tle

Sunday World - - Sport - By Xo­lile Mt­s­hazo mt­s­ha­zox@sun­day­

Last year it was Le­sotho’s cel­e­brated marathoner Tsepo Mathi­belle who in his gutsy per­for­mance ended Ethiopia’s dom­i­nance of the Soweto Marathon.

Sun­day sees the run­ning of the 25th an­niver­sary of the race that winds it’s way around Soweto, tak­ing run­ners through all the memo­rial and his­toric sites. The race boasts his­toric at­trac­tions such as the world-renowned Vi­lakazi Street, stu­dent ac­tivist Tsi­etsi Mashinini’s Mor­ris Isaacson High School, and the June 16 Memo­rial Acre.

But it was the run­ner from the Moun­tain King­dom who, af­ter cross­ing the fin­ish line in a time of 2:19.41 in­side the FNB Sta­dium, be­came an in­stant celebrity.

Mathi­belle beat more than 20 000 fel­low com­peti­tors to win what has be­come known as The Peo­ple’s Race.

Run­ning in the colours of Patane Ath­let­ics Club, he fin­ished ahead of Ethiopia’s de­fend­ing and three-time cham­pion Sin­tayehu Legese Yi­nesu. SA’s Ntsindiso Mphakati claimed the third spot, be­com­ing the first South African over the line.

In the women’s race Irvette van Zyl dom­i­nated, fin­ish­ing in 2:41.04 and in the process be­com­ing the first South African woman to take the ti­tle in eight years. Fel­low coun­try­woman Ma­paseka Makhanya was sec­ond and Ethiopia’s Se­lam Abere Ale­bachew came third.

Be­fore Mathi­belle’s feat, Yi­nesu had won the last three edi­tions since the pop­u­lar race re­turned in 2014, af­ter not be­ing held in 2013.

Yi­nesu’s first suc­cess­ful de­fence of his ti­tle was in 2015 when he won the men’s race in a time of 2:23.20. Zim­bab­wean ath­lete Mike Foko­roni took sec­ond place in a time of 2:24.12 that year and third came John Kirui from Kenya‚ who also com­pleted the 42km race.

The last time a South African won the Soweto Marathon was in 2011 when Michael Maz­ibuko took it in 2:19.04, wrestling the ti­tle from 2010 win­ner and de­fend­ing cham­pion Mathi­belle’s coun­try­man Nkoka Lebenya, who breasted the tape that year in a time of 2:19.44.

Kenya’s Shadrack Kem­boi won in 2012 when he crossed the line in 2:16:28, record­ing one of the fastest times in the his­tory of the Soweto Marathon.

Once again, it will be a ques­tion of will a South African ath­lete bring back the glory days by win­ning the race fol­low­ing a six-year drought?

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