Race rivals complement each other
Gatebe and Kelehe will be fighting a personal duel, but will pace or strength triumph?
LIKE heavyweight boxers before a big-ticket match, the elite athletes for Sunday’s 86,73 km Comrades Marathon ‘up-run’ strutted their stuff in front of the media, and their competitors, in Durban yesterday. However, the biggest hitter came in the form of a soft-spoken duo from the same club.
There is plenty of Comrades ultra distance royalty taking part in this year’s race. From previous winners Claude Moshiywa ( 2013), and the outspoken Ludwick Mamabolo (2012), to KwaZuluNatal’s own Bongmusa Mthembu (2014), and that is just from the recent South African retake of this illustrious race.
However, most recently, Comrades has been swooned by two men who have partnered up under the colours of TomTom this year. Defending ‘ up- run’ champion, Gift Kelehe, and last year’s winner on the ‘down-run’ and record-breaker, David Gatebe.
Gatebe added to the South African pride when he assured another title for his country last year, making it five in a row. But he also smashed a long standing down-run record set by Russian Leonid Shvetsov, finishing the race in 5:18:19, before famously smashing out a few push-ups on the finish line at Kingsmead.
Kelehe, a former policeman from Rustenburg, who has now been redeployed to Pretoria to help with the train- ing of recruits, was another special story in his win in the last up run. He echoed his brother Andrew Kelehe’s achievement some 14 years prior by winning in a time of 5:38:36, mastering the hills on the way to Pietermaritzburg.
These two have got to be the hot favourites for the men’s race, but as this is really an individual sport, what happens when the finish line looms and the teammates are each within shot?
“I hope that both David, and myself, are at the top of Polly Shortts together, Kelehe said. “Because then it will be every man for himself ! Our coach, John Hamlett, has said if that is the case, he will fold his arms and turn away as we race it out for the line together.
“But it really doesn’t matter what the outcome is between us, it has been a blessing and an honour to train with David for this race and I know with his speed, he will get the best out of me.”
Indeed, other than being the form runners of this race over the last two installments, Gatebe and Kelehe complement each other well. Kelehe is no stranger to the hills of the up-run, while there is no doubting Gatebe’s incredible speed. They are bound to work well together and aid each other through the different challenges, including the other competition.
With the likes of Mambolo laying an open challenge to all the runners not from his team Nedbank, the quiet Gatebe simple stated that he would not need to run his mouth before the race.
“When Sunday comes, then I will do my talking,” Gatebe said. “I will let my legs do the talking and they can try and keep up with my pace.”
In terms of a strategy, much has been spoken about Polly Shortts, the final and daunting hill before the run into Pietermaritzburg and the finish line, but seeing as how Kelehe made light work of it in the last ‘up-run’ it may well be his for the taking again.
“The first man at the top of Polly Shortts will take it,” Kelehe predicted.
The only caveat to that probably is if Kelehe and Gatebe top the hill together, as the most recent champion has said: “If I top Polly Shortts first, I can’t be caught, those last 10km I will just fly down them!”
Unfortunately for the competitiveness of the women’s race, the burgeoning rivalry between 2015 up-run winner Caroline Wostmann and last year’s champion Charne Bosman will have to take a backseat. Wostmann withdrew with injury and Bosman was sympathetic to her situation.
“It is sad to see Caroline fall out so soon before the race, if it was me I would be devastated,” Bosman sympathised. But there are plenty of other strong competitors, and I will just be out there to run my race, to focus on my kilometres.”
Bosman came second to Wostman in the last up-run and would love to be the first South African since Frith van der Merwe in 1988/89 to win consecutive races – up and down.
QUIET APPROACH: “I will let my legs do the talking,” says David Gatebe, winner of the 2016 Comrades Marathon.