For two reasons, Ludwick Mamabolo’s Comrades Marathon win last Sunday was a shock. Not a single pundit expected three-times winner Stephen Muzhingi to lose the way he did, and it amazed me personally that pigs could outrun human beings.
In sePedi, Mamabolo’s praise name means pig. He won last Sunday’s 89km down-run in 5:31:03.
Mamabolo defeated Muzhingi, the Zimbabwean athlete who had won the race for three years running since 2009, and Leonid Shvetsov, the down-run record holder from Russia.
In 2007, Shvetsov finished the race in 5:20:49, setting a record which has yet to be broken.
Perhaps Muzhingi’s undoing was his attempt to break that record. “If I run 5:10 others will run five hours. I don’t know. Me, I’m going to run 5:19,” Muzhingi said a day before the race.
But after a three-year absence, Shvetsov was back to defend his record: “For me there is one gold, thick one. The little ones are not so nice,” he said.
Neither of the two managed to cross the finishing line before Mamabolo though, and he became the first South African to win the race in seven years.
Before last weekend’s victory, Mamabolo attempted to upset Muzhingi on at least three occasions. He came second in his first attempt in 2010. Last year Mamabolo was the seventh runner to finish the race. And this year, he was first.
In his build-up this year, Mamabolo took three months of unpaid leave from work.
But the scariest moment came on May 25, a week before the Comrades, when his legs froze to the point where he felt a lot of pain.
“I cried,” he said, adding that this happened just a few days before the race started.
When I and other runners got to the 52km mark, a radio announcer said the three leading runners, who had 30 minutes to finish, were South African.
This brought joy to most of us, with one runner even remarking: “When I was at 50km in 2010, Muzhingi was finishing the race. Now I am at 52km and the top runners are not finished. It means I am doing well.”
Mamabolo, fellow runner, did very well.
When did you decide running was for you?
When I gave up soccer in 2000.
But why did you give up soccer?
Age restriction. When you play soccer, there is an age restriction. You can play up to a certain age, once you reach that age you can no longer effectively take part. Running does not have that limitation. I said to myself ‘why don’t you try something you can do on your own?’
How old were you when you gave up soccer?
I was 23. I started running late.
If you were not a runner, what would you be doing?
I would be an accountant. I am working on it now, studying with the University of South Africa.
Describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, patient, humorous.
What music are you currently listening to?
Gospel, R&B, kwaito and jazz.
And your favourite musician?
What is the most extravagant item you have purchased?
My apartment. I have three apartments – one in Pretoria, another in Kempton Park and the third in Limpopo.
When was the happiest day of your life?
When I got married. I can’t remember the year but it was on November 11. It was a long time ago.
What are your views on sport?
We are not doing badly (as a nation). We need to put in more effort. Anything is possible.
What or who inspires you?
A lot of people. My father Jeremiah, athletes Marko Mambo, Hendrik Ramaala and Johannes Kekana.
What is your earliest childhood memory?
When I won the Turfloop Cup at the age of 19.
What car do you drive?
I am a pedestrian.
Describe your ideal Sunday?
Every Sunday is ideal for me. When I go to church, it makes me happy.
What are you currently reading?
The Alchemist, (the award-winning book by Paulo Coelho)
When was the last time you cried?
On May 25 when I was doing a time trial of 32km. My legs froze. I just cried. I could not run and this was just a week before the Comrades Marathon.
If you were making a film about your life story, who would you like to play you?
My uncle Jerry Ramohlane. He is the person who knows me better than anyone else. I grew up under him.
What do you like about living in South Africa?
A lot of things. Life is good and this is a beautiful country.
What irritates you about this country?
Crime and corruption.
Who makes you laugh?
Any good movie or comedy, even my wife (Lerato) makes me laugh.
What are you secretly good at?
If I tell you, it won’t be a secret any more.
What is the most outrageous thing you have ever done?
There are a lot of them, I can’t even mention one. It’s not a joke.
Where do you like to holiday?
Cash or credit card?
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
All the athletes who are close to me.
What was a defining moment in your life?
When I won the Comrades Marathon.
How would you like to be remembered?
As a hero who won the Comrades Marathon after sevenyears of it being dominated by foreigners.
What is your greatest fear?
If you could edit your life, what would you change?
Behaviour. I have been too soft.
Where is paradise for you?
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Never give up.
Have you ever had a health scare?
Yes. I had an ulcer.
How do you relax?
Watching TV and reading motivational books.
How do you handle stress?
By running. I take a jog and after that I feel good.
What is the most important family value you learnt that you will pass on to your children?
Respect and responsibility for your actions.
What’s your favourite hangout place?
My home in Limpopo because that is my own space and I am with the people who are closest to me. – Sunday Independent