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Spare a thought for running pioneers such as Gabashane Vincent Rakabaele

Athletes participate in Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town

FILE - Athletes participate in Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town. Photo: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 23, 2023


A lot of runners across the country will be saying prayers on Sunday night as they anticipate the draw for the 2024 Two Oceans Marathon.

“The World’s Most Beautiful Marathon” has gone the route of the other major races around the world by getting runners to apply for their participation.

It makes for a nail-biting time as runners wait to hear if they’ve been selected to participate in either the 56km ultra or the half-marathon.

Thankfully, I am not in that boat, though. I have not applied to race because I have long ticked my Two Oceans target box. I attained the silver medal back in 2019.

My excited anticipation of the ballot was spoilt somewhat this week by a message I received concerning a Two Oceans legend.

A friend left me a tearful message, himself having been sent a missive that clearly broke his heart, lamenting our lack of care for running pioneers.

He had received a picture of the desecrated tombstone and grave of the late Gabashane Vincent Rakabaele.

To the uninitiated, Rakabaele is the first black man to ever win the Two Oceans Marathon.

A Lesotho native who ran most of his races in South Africa, Rakabaele beat the great Alan Robb by six seconds on debut in the 1976 edition of the Two Oceans.

The field that year was teeming with ultra-marathon luminaries such as back-to-back defending champion Derek Preiss, multiple world record holder in distances ranging from the 50 miles to 150km, Cavin Woodward, the first black man to finish the Two Oceans, George Qokweni (who placed seventh in 1975), and two-time champion Don Hartley (1972 and 1973), as well as Robb.

But Rakabaele reigned supreme in a time of 3:18:05, and later set the Two Oceans record when he won it again in 1979 with 3:08:56, having finished runner-up the year before.

His record was only bettered eight years later by Thompson Magawana. That he attained three more podium finishes thereafter at the Two Oceans — while also representing Lesotho in the marathon at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics — helped cement his status as a road running legend.

It was thus sad that he later disappeared into such oblivion that his death became only publicised around 2010, when he had actually died seven years before.

And now, his tombstone lies desecrated in Lesotho.

Fortunately, there are people who are keen to ensure that Rakabaele’s legacy does not disappear, and they are planning to erect a new tombstone in September to commemorate his birth date (September 3).

They are also planning to erect a statue for him, as well as have a race in his honour, so that this great legend who opened up doors for black runners is not forgotten. What a noble idea …

Perhaps as they pray for their names to be picked for next year’s race, runners should also spare a thought for pioneers such as Rakabaele and many others who opened the way at races such as Two Oceans and others.


IOL Sport