Durban - KwaZulu-Natal’s first Comrades Marathon winner since 1995 described his victory as the highlight of his career and said his dream was now to develop a running club for his rural village of Bulwer.
Bongmusa Mthembu, 31, credited his coach Willie Mtolo for his success and said he was an astute coach. He was surrounded by runner-up Ludwick Mamabolo and police constable Gift Kelehe, the brother of former Comrades winner Andrew Kelehe.
The province of the Ultimate Human Race has not had a winner since Shaun Meiklejohn way back in 1995, and asked how he would be celebrating, Mthembu quipped it was not time to celebrate yet.
“When I go home the first thing I will do is to thank my ancestors,” he said.
Sporting a rosary around his neck, he described himself as a Christian from a very religious family. He would not celebrate yet – reporting to the ancestors and his parish was important first for the runner.
Asked how he had achieved this feat, the marathon runner, who described running as his “life”, said he had trained for several months at high altitude in Lesotho. He dreamt of opening a running club in his home town to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport.
Not shy to strike out, the outspoken man then took a swipe, supposedly at race organisers.
“In South Africa we are talented when it comes to sport. But we do not take care of our athletes. We must take a look at management,” he said.
Mthembu put it to the press that they should question “management” about why athletes in South Africa were not being sufficiently supported.
He called on the media to put pressure on the sport authorities to explain their stance and declared his passion and love for running by declaring that he was unemployed and that “this is my life”, adding that he wished to share it with his community.
The controversial athlete Mamabolo, who appeared to be still angry about the drug allegations made against him in 2012, had encouraging words for the winner and said he was pleased that the top three were all South Africans, and this, he said, showed that South Africans were talented.
“I had told Mthembu in an earlier race that he needs to watch how he runs as he had the potential to win the Comrades.”
He seemingly took the advice to heart. Mamabolo also said he provided constant advice for Mthembu during the race, advising him on how to pace himself.
He will net a cool R350 000 in prize money and R30 000 from the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation – but although he had tried not to convey his joy, he agreed that the victory was the highlight of his professional running career.
Mthembu relished his underdog status.
“Friday when they were looking at potential winners they were talking about other people. They did not mention me and that is when I got confident,” he said with a smile on his face.
He thanked his trainer, Willie Mtolo, whom he had “been working hard with” and said the victory had “been a long process”.
Mthembu recalled how in the past he had watched Mtolo, who is considered to be one of the greatest runners to have never won the Comrades, competing in the race, on a “very small television screen”.
He said seeing his mentor losing the race made him cry. Mthembu said winning the race was that much sweeter for him since he was able to achieve what Mtolo could not.