The Star Early Edition
Sweating it out in Soweto
Thousands of runners took part in the annual Old Mutual Soweto Marathon yesterday.
IRVETTE van Zyl finally broke the foreign stranglehold on the Old Mutual Soweto Marathon becoming the first South African female to win the race since 2009.
The Olympic marathoner upgraded her bronze medal from last year for gold in a time of 2:41.06.
René Kalmer was the last South African woman to win the gruelling race through the famous Johannesburg township.
The men’s title remained in foreign hands with Tsepo Mathibele of Lesotho taking the spoils in a time of 2:19.41.
Mathibele held off a challenge from Ethiopean Sintayehu Legese Yinesu, who was bidding for his fourth consecutive title.
Ntsindiso Mphakathi was the first local athlete to cross the line finishing in a creditable third place, clocking 2:21.23.
Michael Mazibuko is the last South African to win Soweto Marathon back in 2011.
Local favourite Mapaseka Makhanya, racing in her home town for the first time, finished second behind Van Zyl for a local 1-2. She crossed the line in a time 2:44.37 with defending champion Selam Abere Alebachew of Ethiopia finishing third in 2:46.33.
A large lead group in the men’s race went through the halfway mark before the top three broke away.
With the course offering little relief with the undulating course and minimal protection from the sun, the final kilometres separating the wheat from the chaff.
Mathibele dropped Yinesu and Mphakathi at the 30-kilometre mark where he held onto pole position to claim the victory.
In the women’s race, Makhanya took an early lead with Alebachew going with her.
Van Zyl worked herself into a strong position after moving past Makhanya but saw her advantage slip when she had to stop for a bathroom break at the 29km mark. Slipping back to third place Van Zyl had to work hard to reel in Alebachew and Makhanya again.
Van Zyl first caught up with Alebachew before moving past Makhanya with eight kilometres remaining.
“I didn’t expect to win today, although I wanted to, but I felt it was out of reach and I had a hiccup going to the toilet,” Van Zyl said.
“When I caught Alebachew I could see Mapa (Makhanya) far ahead and I told myself second is good enough.
“This meant a lot, it was my third time lining up for this race, the first time in 2011 I fell and finished in a taxi and last year I had a bit of an injury problem.”
For Makhanya it was a homecoming of sorts relying heavily on her home-town support.
“I wish I had never avoided this race, the support along the route was amazing, I’ve never experienced so much support in a race,” Makhanya said.
“I’ve always wanted to tick it off my bucket list, I am very happy with it being my first Soweto Marathon and finishing second.”
Van Zyl said the long wait for a South African victory was made even sweeter with the two local women sharing the podium.
“I thought if come second today at least Mapa will be the first South African and it would be a double for us,” Van Zyl said.