JOHANNESBURG - It's about time a South African ended the foreign domination of the famous Old Mutual Soweto Marathon. Lungile Gongqa, a former Two Oceans Marathon champion, believes the country’s runners have to make it a point that they end the “seven year itch” for the People’s Race title.
“I reckon the time has come for the race to have a local runner winning it after all these years,” Gongqa said as he looked ahead to the November 4 marathon through the country’s biggest township.
The last local runner to win the marathon was Michael Mazibuko, who romped home in 2011 by clocking two hours, 19 minutes and four seconds. While he was careful not to make any bold promises, Gongqa will line-up for the start just outside the FNB Stadium intent on being the first one to enter the iconic 2010 Fifa World Cup venue some two hours later. “I will be targeting a top 10 finish but if they can allow me some space like they did in Two Oceans then I will win it. I will go all the way to claim my first title of the race.”
Gongqa will have to overcome the challenge of the Lesotho and Ethiopian runners, who have dominated the race in recent years. Add to that the fact he will be making his debut in one of the toughest marathons in the country and Gongqa’s attempt at glory is made all the more difficult.
The Nedbank athlete from Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape, however, thrives on challenges. “I heard that it is a tough race but I will be up for it. I am not scared of Lesotho nationals and other athletes from East Africa,” Gongqa said.
He believes the reason most South Africans struggle to win the Soweto Marathon is because they over-race. “These guys from outside beat us because most of them do not go for Cape Town Marathon. But a lot of us do both races. We do not get enough time to recover before this race and they capitalise on that and win the race.”
Gongqa is aiming to emulate Eastern Cape athlete Mluleki Nobanda who won the Soweto Marathon in 2001. Gongqa has learnt so much from Nobanda whom he regards as his role model.
“I grew up hearing about his successes on the radio. He won the Belgrade, Taipei and Two Oceans Marathons as a first timer. He made me believe that anything is possible. If he can come from nowhere and beat quality athletes to win Two Oceans as a first timer, why can’t I do it in Soweto? He was my role model when I started running,” said Gongqa.
He admitted to having a miserable season after he failed to finish his maiden Comrades Marathon, having also struggled at Two Oceans as he finished outside the top 10. He redeemed himself somewhat at the Cape Town Marathon.
“I was forced to bail out of Comrades after 50 km due to injury. In Cape Town I was testing if I can run the marathon again. I am happy with the 2:21 I ran there. I will be ready to compete in Soweto next month. I would like to win Soweto and finish the year on a high.”