John Hamlett is renowned as a “Comrades kingmaker”.
JOHANNESBURG – “I cannot put in what God left out.” John Hamlett, his cute Yorkshire Terrier on his lap, is talking about what it takes to be a Comrades champion.

The TomTom Athletics Club coach is renowned as a “Comrades kingmaker” having trained no less than four winners of the Ultimate Human Race.

“There’s really no clear competition for us this year,” Hamlett says, “Maybe Teboho Sello. But I really believe we will win it again this year after we won the last two.

“Any of Gift (Kelehe, the defending up run champion) or David (Gatebe, last year’s record-breaking winner) can break the up run record ... This year we have a team good enough to dominate the top five.”

And he should know what good enough is, Hamlett having not only run the Comrades in the past himself but also having specialised in training runners for local road running’s holy grail for many years.

“To win the Comrades you need to be a disciplined and committed athlete. Of course, it’s key that there’s an essence of talent there, after all I cannot put in what God left out, can I?” he laughs, startling the yorkie – named Ruab – to wake up and leave his lap. “Talent, though, is but a small percentage of it all.”

It took him 10 years to get Kelehe to win the Comrades, he explains. And even then, the man from Mafikeng had been running for nearly all his life. “Gift and his brother, Andrew (2001 Comrades champion), used to run to school. So, running is a natural effort for them and working with such people makes it a little easier.

You can’t have a guy who is being forced to run and think you can make a Comrades champion out of him,” Hamlett said. Proper training, the right nutrition and psychological strength play a major role, too.

“It is not a one size fits all, as some people seem to think. Training for instance, has to be individual specific and you can only know what to do for each athlete from having spent years and years working with them.”

The TomTom team will be going to Durban on Thursday having been in camp for eight weeks running distances of 250km to 270km a week. That they chose Dullstroom, he says, is because “at an altitude of about 2 000m, it is an ideal place to train. 

I’ve heard people ask why we don’t go to Lesotho, but Lesotho is too high and too steep.

“The isolation is also very good for the athletes to be focused on the job. We don’t just allow people in the camp, no visitors who can contaminate our food. We’re that careful.”

Having done their best in the build-up, what happens on race day is of the utmost importance. “Because I know each of my athletes, we manage each one’s needs on race day individually. 

From preparing their drinks and knowing when to give each one their own. That’s very important on the day because it doesn’t help to have a Ferrrari that is tuned and then have no petrol, does it,” Hamlett says. The psychological aspect of the race is also very important.

“We watch a lot of Comrades movies and we discuss tactics from them. So, when they go into a race, my athletes usually know things such as when to break from a group or a competition. Honesty is key and they know they can share whatever they are feeling with me.

But I also know them and while David, for example, is a quiet man, I am able to tell when he has something on his mind,” Hamlett says. His yorkie is no doubt in sync with him.

For when Hamlett got ready to take his runners for a fartleks session after the interviews, Ruab was at his feet, undoing his shoelaces. “It’s his way of telling me I shouldn’t leave him behind,” Hamlett says.

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The Star

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