For all his successes in producing Comrades Marathon champions, John Hamlett is yet to see his teams dominate the team competition at the famous KwaZulu-Natal ultra.
That, though, seems likely to change next Sunday if the pronouncements made by his runners this past week are anything to go by.
Members of Hamlett’s Entsika Athletics Club – among them two former champions in David Gatebe and Gift Kelehe – are intent on dominating the top positions in the 90.184km race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
And given the hard work they’ve been putting in during the last two months at their training camp in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, it will not be surprising to see them live up to their words.
Rivals Nedbank Running Club have monopolised the team prize in recent years, the team managed by 1991 Comrades champion Nick Bester winning the prize even in the years (2015 and 2016) when Hamlett’s men have won the race.
Yet as they look ahead to next weekend’s “down run” it is clear that the Entsika athletes are concerned with more than just the individual accolades.
Hamlett actually shared a story of how Kelehe wanted to keep on running despite a fracture back in 2013 just so he could help contribute to the team’s score.
“I have an awesome crowd of boys here. These athletes are committed and focused. I’m yet to find athletes so focused and ready to take the punch not just for themselves but for the team.”
Kelehe spoke of the disappointment of missing out on the team prize and said the entire team is determined to welcome their new backers Entsika Consulting with success.
“The sponsors have done their part, everything is now left to us to go and deliver on June 10,” he promised.
His teammates are also of the same view, with all of them promising to either make the top 10 gold medal finish or make drastic improvements on their personal best. “My best time for the down run is a 6:36. I am going down to improve that time,” said Thabiso Bontsi, a seven-time finisher with five silver medals.
Gordon Lesetedi is confident he will be among those dangling gold medals down his neck on the Moses Mabhida Stadium pitch some time before noon next Sunday.
“I am going for a top 10, and with the kind of training we have had here I am sure I can achieve my goal,” said four-time silver medallist Lesetedi.
Inspired by being in the presence of champions, the likes of Joseph Thoka and Siya Mqambeli are eager to also deliver performances that will lift the new club’s name up high.
“All I want to say is that expect great things from us next weekend,” Mqambeli, a six-time finisher (five silver and one bronze), promised.
Having seen himself improve dramatically in his time at the camp which he joined for the first time this year, Ernest Mokoo is brimming with confidence. “I am ready to run sub six hours which I believe will get me into the top 10,” he said.
“It was a little hard in the beginning here at camp but after getting used to it, I’ve really grown in confidence and my feeling is that no one was born a champion.
“So I am not scared of any names, we’re all runners with running shoes on and I am going to the race to try and win, just like everyone else.”
Live up to their words and the name Entsika Athletics Club could well be up in lights and renowned in ultra-running circles.@Tshiliboy