Bongmusa Mthembu breaks away to take the lead on Polly Shorts during the 2017 Comrades Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. Photo: BackpagePix

The 2018 Comrades Marathon taking place next weekend will be won by someone new. So says Sam Tshabalala, the first black man to win the KwaZulu Natal classic.

“Those top athletes who think they know the race will not win this year,” Tshabalala said without flinching.

“This is the year of the dark horses. I know the Comrades Marathon; it is not kind to favourites and this year will be no different. We will have a new champion and it will be someone who has never won it before.”

Himself a surprise winner in 1989, Tshabalala says he does not foresee anyone in the current generation winning back-to-back titles.

“A guy can win Comrades this year but the following year he will be over confident and the race will humble him. I believe the problem is that sometimes the victory goes to their head and they fail to impress the following year.”

Since Tshabalala ended Bruce Fordyce’s monopoly of “The Ultimate Human Race”, only Stephen Muzhingi has won the race successively, the Zimbabwean ruling supreme from 2009 to 2011.

All the other winners, from Ludwick Mamabolo, Claude Moshiywa, Bongmusa Mthembu, Gift Kelehe to David Gatebe, failed.

Mthembu, has won both the down (2014) and up (last year) runs and goes into the race as one of the favourites, although on Tshabalala’s theory, the Arthur Ford athlete is unlikely to be triumphant.

Tshabalala also has another theory that would raise eyebrows among the top clubs although it is likely to be supported by some.

“It is not true that you need to go into an intensive training camp to win the Comrades. You can win it while training at home, just like I did. I used to go to training with the other athletes but came back home in the afternoon. My wife was always there. Camping is not good for married athletes.”

While long retired, Tshabalala believes he could have been more than just the “one-race wonder” some refer to him as. The car accident he was in back in 1991 curtailed his running career, he says.

“My heart was still saying yes after the accident but my body was saying no. Since then I struggled to compete for a gold medal. But I believe I would have won another Comrades had it not been for the accident,” said the man who finished 13th the year after his win.

Saturday Star

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