Pressure mounts on SA stars to win People’s Race
Lesotho national is defending the title
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?