JOHANNESBURG – Gift Kelehe was in nostalgic mood yesterday. Reliving his Comrades Marathon journey from 2001 when he seconded his brother Andrew to the title, the senior citizen of Entsika Athletics Club declared himself and his teammates ready to fill up the podium positions at this year’s edition of the Ultimate Human Race.
“One, two, three.... this is the year we will get it. We will get three to four gold medals and even the team prize, we’re going to get it.”
It is late Thursday morning at the Critchley Hackle Hotel in Dullstroom, a favourite training ground for aspiring Comrades Marathon champions, and Kelehe is addressing the media on the team’s readiness for the June 9 race.
A champion in 2015, Kelehe is keen on winning a second title and while he did not declare himself ready to do so - the man from Sekhing village in the North West’s Taung insinuated that much.
He did so, however, after going on a trip down memory lane.
“In 2001 when my dad had no money to pay for me to continue with my FET studies, my brother Andrew brought me here when he was training for Comrades. I saw him on the side of the road at the race as I supported, giving him drinks on his way to winning.
I said I want to be like this gentleman and John (Hamlett, the coach) said to me it won’t be easy and that it will take a lot of dedication and time.”
That it did, Kelehe only running his first Comrades in 2007 and then going a further eight years before “being like that gentleman”.
Gift Kelehe (2015🥇,6 golds)— The Running Mann (Marathons & Mischief) (@runningmann100) May 23, 2019
• Ran 5 Comrades before first gold
• Predicts 3-4 golds & a young future champion are in room
• Bad run with bad runs after eating "laxative chicken" last year
• Highlighted how Entsika support means his 2-year-old daughter can “live a good life” pic.twitter.com/yowBaSQJx2
Through those years, many Comrades races were completed in spite of injuries that would have seen many a runner sit the race out or quit in the middle. He did DNF (did not finish) in 2013 thanks to a fracture that would have seen his leg - according to the doctor who saw him afterwards - “broken if I ran an extra kilometre”.
But two years later it was “glory, glory Gift Kelehe” as the soft spoken runner with an incredible engine finally emulated his brother. He has not been able to conquer all since then. That, he believes, will change in a little over a fortnight’s time.
“We made a small mistake last year, but that won’t happen again,” he said of the team error that saw them buy chicken from a restaurant for supper the Friday night before the race on Sunday. “We didn’t know we were buying laxative and from the halfway mark we found ourselves taking turns in going to the toilet.”
He still finished in the gold medal position and ran into the Moses Mabhida Stadium gesturing to the crowd that he would be back next year to do better. Next year has arrived and Kelehe is in no doubt that Entsika will conquer this year.
Zakhele Mkhize (Entsika founder & director)— The Running Mann (Marathons & Mischief) (@runningmann100) May 23, 2019
• Has run 5 Comrades & 1 IronMan
• To the team “The word must know your name” & "On June 9 the whole country will watch you go to work”
• His personal fantasy “seeing 3 or 4 Entsika guys running up Polly Shortts together in the lead” pic.twitter.com/qCBZbSRbSd
“When I look at the guys during training I can see the guys are much more focused and in greater shape than last year. I am not looking down on the other teams or the other runners, but there is so much dedication to the job at hand here that even if they can break away we will be able to catch them.
And when we break away from them, I don’t see any problem with us getting one, two three.”@Tsiliboy