JOHANNESBURG - What are the chances of Lungile Gongqa adding the Cape Town Marathon title to the Two Oceans gong he won earlier in the year?
Coach Hendrick Ramaala is confident that his charge can complete the double. But he knows that it will take an inspired performance on Sunday for the South African Olympian to triumph.
“It is going to be a very competitive race because they’ve assembled a top class elite field,” Ramaala, who himself will be running the marathon, said.
That top field includes record holder and defending champion Asefa Negewo of Ethiopia (2.08.41) as well as Kenyan Laban Mutai, whose 2.08.01 PB is the best of the field.
Those two runners, plus Mutai’s compatriot Samuel Maswai (2.08.51) should be the favourites based on their times.
But road running has a funny way of humbling even the best and the Cape Town Marathon, in particular, has proven over the years to have no respect for reputations.
And so it is with that history in mind that the likes of Gongqa and his teammates, Michael Mazibuko and Xolisa Tyali, will set off from the start believing they’ll be the first to get into the Greenpoint Stadium.
Ramaala would love that.
“We’re going to be well represented in Cape Town and yes we believe the title can come and make its home here in at the Zoo,” he said of their training ground at Zoo Lake in Johannesburg.
That Gongqa is regarded as one of the favourites is not only because of his victory at Two Oceans but also due to his great run at the same race two years ago.
In 2015, Gongqa delivered his breakthrough performance as he finished second behind Shadrack Kemboi of Kenya in a time of 2.11.59.
That feat earned him a spot in the South African team that competed at the Rio Olympics last year and thereafter, followed that glorious run in the Mother City in April as he captured the 56km Two Oceans.
Granted road running is essentially an individual sport, but team work always comes into play in big races and Ramaala’s team will be working together to end the foreign domination.
They have Desmond Mokgobu as one of the pace-setters and should they all stick with him as he sets out to help the field achieve the sub 2.08 that the organisers are hoping for, then the title could well come to Zoo Lake.
Whether it will be brought home by Gongqa or last year’s third place finisher Mazibuko or even Tyali, who ended ninth in 2016 remains to be seen.
Not that Ramaala’s team are the only South Africans in with a chance of stopping the Kenyans and Ethiopians. Far from it, for there is also Lesotho’s Motlokoa Nkhabutla, whose 2.09.47 run gave him fourth spot last year. That good finish inspired him to another brilliant performance at the Paris Marathon where he finished ninth.
Gladwin Mzazi of Boxer Athletics Club is a good runner with great potential and he has made it clear he will be descending on the Mother City to conquer while track distance runner Elroy Gelant is keen to make an impression on his marathon debut.
The women’s race will be equally intriguing, what with last year’s winner Tish Jones back to defend her title and Kenya’s Agnes Kiprop, Ethiopians Betelhem Moges and Fantu Eticha as well as Germany’s Lisa Hahner all in the mix.
Add the South African trio of last year’s third place finisher Lebogang Phalula, Irvette Van Zyl and Tanith Maxwell to the mix and you have an elite field capable of pushing each other to some fantastic times.
The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon is Africa’s first and only IAAF Gold Label Status race and come Sunday you will get to understand why as the elite field ‘fly’ through the streets of the Mother City. Who will be the winners? Your guess is as good as mine ...