Matshelane Mamabolo
Matshelane Mamabolo

SA distance running close to replicating heydays of yesteryear

By Matshelane Mamabolo Time of article published Nov 6, 2021

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Hendrick Ramaala’s standing as a South African running legend cannot be disputed. The discerning athletics and road running fan would know that the man’s achievements are stuff of dreams.

Ramaala is a four-time Olympian; a five-time World Championships finalist; a two-time World Half Marathon Championship silver medallist; a two-time 5000m national champion; a 10 000m record holder; a former New York Marathon champion; a top ten finisher at both Berlin and London Marathons. It is a CV that many runners aspire to have but only a few get to realise.

Now long retired, Ramaala has taken to passing on his vast experience to young athletes and is doing a fantastic job of it. Not many star athletes make a successful transition to coaching, but Ramaala has managed to do that and the success of his training group at the Zoo Lake in Johannesburg bears testimony to this.

No surprise then that the soft-spoken 49-year-old from Ga-Molepo near Polokwane, Limpopo is in line for a coach of the year accolade at next weekend’s Gauteng Sports Awards.

It is a deserved recognition following a year in which his star athlete Precious Mashele has shone like a diamond and members of his training group registered PBs (Personal Best runs) after PBs.

Typically, Ramaala – who is in contention for the award alongside Rocco Meiring who masterminded Tatiana Schoenmaker’s incredible showing at the Tokyo Olympics, gymnastics coach Illse Roets as well as athletics mentor Hendriks Petrus – was humble about the recognition.

He described the nomination as ‘highly unexpected’ but was happy that his work had caught the eye.

And why wouldn’t it have followed such a brilliant year by his top athlete Mashele.

A perennial bridesmaid to the great Stephen Mokoka, Mashele came of age in a spectacular way this year – capturing no less than three national titles while running PBs too.

His victory over Mokoka in the National Half Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth in 61:17 when he came from behind to overtake his role model with about 500meters to go was arguably one of the best athletics performances of the year.

Before that, Mashele had run a splendid 60:24 in the 21.1km distance at the World Athletics Half Marathon Championships in Gdynia, Poland in 2020.

Mashele captured the South African 5000m title at the nationals in Pretoria but failed to earn an Olympic qualifying time. When his athlete seemed to be losing hope of making it to the Tokyo Games, Ramaala was on hand to provide fatherly advice and encouragement and his delight at seeing his charge earn the ticket on the final night of qualification in Durban knew no bounds.

Mashele capped a brilliant year by winning the national 10km championship in Durban last weekend in a PB of 28:12. In that same race, another of Ramaala’s upcoming athlete Maxine Chaumeton came in fifth also in a PB of 28:30. Nico Seoposengwe and Dylan Van Der Merwe who are also part of the Zoo Lake squad ran PBs.

Ramaala was also ‘coach’ of the SA marathon team at the Tokyo Olympics where Gerda Steyn finished a credible 15th and Elroy Gelant came completed the gruelling race as the 34th finisher.

Somewhat accustomed to his sport taking the backseat to the major ones like soccer, rugby and cricket, Ramaala sees his nomination as a sign of good things to come and feels his being recognised will inspire the youngsters.

“There are a lot of very good coaches in all the sports and we are used to seeing the guys from rugby and soccer and even cricket getting these kinds of things. So this recognition is good, to be a finalist is very encouraging although for me, I get my reward from seeing the boys reaching their potential and doing well in races.”

The nomination, he believes, will spur on distance running people to work even more and realise that their efforts are being seen out there.

Ramaala believes that there’s a chance for distance running in the country to go back to its heydays of the 80s because there’s a lot of talent coming up.

“I was very encouraged to hear the organisers of the Run Your City series talking about plans to have more runners participating in their events. This is good news for our runners who have been starved of action due to Covid.”

And with the following two years teeming with major events – the Commonwealth Games, the World Championships are both next year – he is hopeful that South Africa will shine and feels the athletes must knuckle down and ready themselves to take on the world’s best.

Having competed and beaten some of the world’s best, there are few in South Africa best qualified to offer that kind of advice. After all, Hendrick Ramaala is a legend of SA running. And he could well be on his way to achieving a similar status as a coach.

@Tshiliboy

IOL Sport

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