Durban - With one kilometre to go before Comrades Marathon glory, the men’s race winner, Bongmusa Mthembu, took a moment to decide how he would go about crossing the finish line and so it was that, with a triumphant right hook, he hit the yellow ribbon.
But that’s about all the celebrating Mthembu planned to do on Sunday night, because winning was where the hard work started, he said after the race.
There would be no post-race partying for the 30-year-old, who instead planned to commemorate his victory by giving thanks for his success with his family in Bulwer.
“I grew up in a family where you respect culture and the church,” Mthembu said.
“This was a physical process of five to six years… This win comes with hard work.”
Mthembu said he had been watching the Comrades since he was a boy, and had cried when in 2002 his hero and mentor, Willie Mtolo, was beaten to the finish by Vladimir Kotov.
“Today, he (Mtolo) is the one crying (with happiness),” Mthembu said, in a rare moment of laughter, his trademark rosary hanging around his neck.
Asked whether the Comrades’ winner had a wife or children cheering him on, his manager, Graham Daniel, said Mthembu was “married to running”.
Mthembu said his three brothers had been among the crowd at Kingsmead, but that his mother could not even bear to watch the race on TV.
He said very little about the arduous 89.28km trek, only that he had not felt under pressure particularly and that he had been “confident” going in.
With the top three male runners all South African, Mthembu was asked whether this marked the beginning of a new era in Comrades history. He answered that local runners were very talented, but that their managers did not look after them as well as they should. He said that when athletes did poorly, no questions were asked about how they were looked after.
Daniel said the professional athlete was someone from humble beginnings. “I just want to cry,” he said of Mthembu’s victory
Controversial 2012 winner Ludwick Mamabolo finished behind Mthembu, a switch from the year when Mthembu finished second.
Third home on Sunday was Gift Kelehe, a police constable who hails from Rustenburg.
An emotional Canadian-Scot Ellie Greenwood who took the women’s title, said she was determined not to give up on what was “a pretty terrible race in a lot of ways” because of the strain on the legs.
“(I thought) if I have to walk the rest of the 50km, I’ll walk 50km.”
Greenwood said the last 4km were the toughest, but that winning the “world-class” race was the highlight of her career.
Legendary barefoot runner Zola Budd, who was the seventh woman home, said that if it was not for the help of a bystander she would not have made it to the finish.
Budd said she had started the race too quickly, but that a “kind lady” had given her crème soda, which got her going again.
Russian Elena Nurgalieva came in second and her twin sister, Olesya, was third.
Twenty-year-olds Cade Pillay and Catherine Carr – the youngest male and female runners in this year’s race – also made KZN proud by finishing their first Comrades.
Pillay finished in a time of 9:43:56 at 3.13pm, while Carr crossed the line at 4.57pm in 11:27:09.
North Beach’s Greg Finnie, who was featured in The Mercury last week for missing out the halfway cut-off by two minutes in 2012 and two seconds in 2013, passed his dreaded Drummond and finished the race with 17 minutes to spare. His time was 11:42:56.
Comrades gold medallists
1. Bongmusa Mthembu - 5:28:34
2. Ludwick Mamabolo - 5:33:14
3. Gift Kelehe - 5:34:39
4. Stephen Muzhingi - 5:35:18
5. Rufus Photo - 5:35:30
6. Mncedisi Mkhize - 5:36:06
7. Jonas Buud - 5.38:17
8. Manoko Mokwalakwala - 5:39:29
9. Prodigal Khumalo - 5:39:36
10. Latudi Makofane - 5:40:41
1. Eleanor Greenwood - 6.18:15
2. Elena Nurgalieva - 6:23:18
3. Olesya Nurgalieva - 6:24:51
4. Irina Antropova - 6:34:08
5. Jo Meek - 6:47:02
6. Caroline Wostmann - 6:51:43
7. Zola Budd Pieterse - 6:55:55
8. Frida Fsodermark - 6:57:33
9. Martinique Potgieter - 7:00:46
10. Julanie Basson -7:02:50