And so it was with some trepidation when I sat down for an interview with the reigning Comrades Marathon champion at their training base out in Dullstroom some three weeks ago. I needn’t have worried.
For beneath that shy exterior lies an open man with so much confidence in his abilities, he’s open to sharing what his goals are. “This year I am going for 5:23,” he says.
To the uninitiated, that too will be a record Comrades run following on last year’s success that saw him unseat Russian Leonid Shvetsov as the fastest man in the Comrades down run.
And should he live up to his words, Gatebe will again be breaking Shevetsov’s record – the Russian having set the mark when he won in 5:24:48 back in 2008.
Too often sportsmen who share their plans to shine or break records do so with so much bravado and arrogance that they fall flat on their faces. Think Muhammad Ali or Floyd Mayweather.
Gatebe, though, is different. He almost whispers his intentions. And it is perhaps that which makes him so believable to the extent of making you wish him well. “If I can just shave just a minute off the record, I’ll be happy. If God can give me the blessing, then I will break the record.”
He says he knew three weeks before last year’s race that he would break the record. “Even at the press conference before the race, when they asked me, I told them I would run 5:18.” And he duly did.
Three weeks ago, which was five weeks into their camp, Gatebe said he was feeling super fit and loving how the preparations were going. At the time he said should he stay fully fit until race day (tomorrow), he would “fly” to Maritzburg.
“I went to the race with a little knee injury last year. But I simply pushed that niggling pain to the back of my head and focused on running. And it brought me results. I know I can fly. I am not afraid to fly. I am prepared to be the guy who sets the pace even when I run with a group of people.”
Whereas many an athletes are dreading the up run with its hills, Gatebe sees things very differently.
“I studied the Comrades route. It is the same, just up, not down. I’ve won the down run, now I want to win the up run and I believe God can give me the record too.”
He goes into Comrades on the back of his good run at the World 100km championship where he, along with Bongumusa Mthembu, Gift Kelehe, Rufus Photo and Ludwick Mamabolo, took the silver medal as a team
“That race showed me just how much can be achieved through teamwork.”
And with no less than seven very good runners in their Tom Tom team capable of a top-10 finish, Gatebe is confident they can beat the Nedbank Club to the team title.
For that to happen, he will need to add the up run title to the down run one from last year. And perhaps do so in record time.
A big Kaizer Chiefs fan, Gatebe had been disappointed by their poor showing this season, giving away matches when in the lead.
“Me, if I take a lead, there’s no way I’ll let anyone overtake me,” he laughs.
The opposition have been warned. Allow Gatebe to take the lead at your own peril.