JOHANNESBURG - The smile that flickered across John Hamlett’s face as he called his athletes to the front of the room, told the story of a coach happy with the work he has done.
With a little over a week to go before the Comrades Marathon, the renowned coach was in no doubt that his runners were ready to reclaim the title taken away from them last year.
But on this cool morning, in this small town that has been his base camp for grilling his athletes into Comrades champions, there is a lot more to Hamlett’s excitement. His runners are now under ‘new management’ - 'a sponsor that cares about them as people more than just athletes”.
Hamlett and his team are now sponsored by Entsika Consulting and will be flying down from Pietermaritzburg to Durban this Sunday in the blue and white of Entsika Athletics Club. Hamlett calls it “a match made from up above.”
“In all my many years of running, I’ve never had a club where management are thinking about the people’s current running careers, where they would like to be in future and what they will be doing when their running is over. But Entsika came to us and offered the guys exactly that. This is the right fit, it is from up above.”
Entsika founder and director Zakhele Mkhize - himself a runner with five Comrades races under his belt and now going for his maiden Iron Man - said they went into partnership with Hamlett’s team because “we are driven by a desire to make a difference”.
“For us it is not just about running but also about supporting the athletes in their lives in general.”
Now, with life’s worries sorted out for them by a caring sponsor, the likes of Gift Kelehe, David Gatebe, Latudi Makofane, Charles Mkhonto and Gordon Lesetedi, are raring to go.
“The sponsors have done their part, now everything is left to us,” said Kelehe, the 2015 Up Run champion.
Said Makofane: “We won’t disappoint you coach. And you, our sponsors. I am prepared and I believe I can run better than the other years before. I hope to get a time of between 5:35 and 5:38.”
Thabiso Bontsi, meanwhile, is just pleased he is going for his seventh Comrades without any worries: “Back in December, I was stressing because we had no sponsor. But here we are, having a very good camp because of Entsika. I am going there to make you proud.”
This being their first Comrades as Entsika Athletics Club, Hamlett and his men will be out to dominate the race. More importantly, they would also love to win the title they lost out to Arthur Ford’s Bongmusa Mthembu after Kelehe and Gatebe reigned supreme in 2015 and 2016, respectively. That achieved, bet on Hamlett’s smile being much wider next Sunday.