Johannesburg - Ntsindiso Mphakathi is ‘super-fit’ ahead of Sunday’s Soweto Marathon and could well be the man who brings an end to the little over decade-long domination of the People’s Race by foreign runners.
Not since Michael Mazibuko’s victory back in 2011 in a time of 2:19:04 has a South African man reigned supreme in the 42.195km event of the popular three-in-one-race in the historic township.
Granted the race was not run in three (2013, 2020 and 2021) of those years after 2011, but seven years without a local champion is too long. And perhaps it is about time ‘the seven-year-itch’ is scratched away.
That Mphakathi could well be the man to bring some joy to the home crowd starved of seeing one of their own enter the FNB Stadium first is not just wishful thinking.
Besides his being in top condition as per his coach Hendrick Ramaala, the man they fondly refer to as ‘Tata’ was the best South African the last time the race was run.
Back in 2019, before Covid-19 put paid to the event taking place in 2020 and 2021, Mphakathi ran an impressive 2:19:5 to finish 8th overall in the race and was the only local runner in the top ten.
He had actually been in the lead with less than 15 kilometres to go but found the notorious incline in Riverlea too hard to speed up on and thus got reeled in and had to be content with a top ten finish.
It was the third time he had gotten into the gold medal positions, Mphakathi having finished 7th in 2014 in a then 'pedestrian' time of 2:23:35. He was third in 2017 courtesy of a brave run that saw him cross the line in 2:21:23.
He is a much improved runner now and has had a reasonably good 2022 during which he win the 52km Mangosuthu Buthelezi Ultra. Before that he had run a 3:40 at Two Oceans Marathon.
The Entsika Athletic Club runner went to the Conrades Marathon just to 'gain experience' and pulled out at the halfway mark.
Mphakathi says he has learnt from his 2019 'flop' and believes he can challenge for a podium finish on Sunday if not hekp keep the title at home.
"In that last race I flopped because i went in front too early. I should have taken the lead with maybe eight kay's (8km) to go. Also, I have realised that my problem with Soweto Marathon is that I start struggling when I get to New Canada and at that Putco depot. My plan is to preserve myself so that i still have some enrrgy wheb i get there."
If his coach is to be believed though, Mphakathi should have no problems this time around.
"Tata is super got this time," former New York Marathon champion Ramaala said it his charge.
Mphakathi would not confirm that much but rather said: "I am the student and coach is the teacher. So he knows better."
The Entsika A.C. athlete is one.of many renowned local runners in the start list for the race hoping to end the foreign brigade' s stranglehold on the race.
Among them are his Entsika temmmate Deamomd Mokgobu, Comrades Marathon gold medaliats Mahlomola Sekonyana, Charles Tjiane and Joseph Manyedi as well as Two Oceans Marathon top tenner Thobani Chagwe.
It will require some teamwork and bot the individual way they have been tackling the race in the past if any of these local runners are to win on Sunday.
That the Soweto Marathon has been dominated by Ethiopians, Kenyans and Absorb is because they work together during races and have strategies to help the stronger athlete among them to victory - a running strategy that remains foreign to South Africans.