JOHANNESBURG – Something beautiful is brewing in road running circles and if properly harnessed could help see the emergence of many a black female distance runner in the country.
Granted that Caster Semenya is the benchmark for track running here at home and young black girls in townships and villages countrywide have been inspired to take up running as they aspire to be like the 800m phenomenon. But in half marathons, marathons and ultra marathons, there has not been many a female role model to inspire new talent.
Yes, Blanche Moila - famous for her white doek - made many a young girl want to chase the wind back in the eighties. Yet since her, great female road runners have been few and far between and as such role models have been scarce.
Take the Comrades Marathon for example and you will see that there has been just one black African female making the top 10 in the last 10 years. Fikile Mbuthuma holds down a permanent job and is literally a part time runner. She is, however, almost always considered a top ten contender at the world famous KZN ultra and achieved a gold medal two years ago.
Can you imagine how well she would do if she were enjoying the kind of support afforded her white counterparts? If she did not have to hold down an office job to ensure she is able to make ends meet, and had proper sponsorships, no doubt Mbuthuma would be the standard that young black girls measure themselves on.
And she is not the only one, because the likes of Ernie Manzini and Lesego Hlako have proven themselves to be pretty talented ultra runners, shining in the Om Die Dam, Two Oceans and Comrades marathons.
My excitement though has to do with two younger runners who are immensely talented and could well elevate women’s road running in SA to incredible heights should they be properly backed. Ramadimetja Babili and Glenrose Xaba were running overseas this morning in what I hope and believe will be the beginning of international careers that will help elevate the status of women’s road running. Babili was making her international debut at the Amsterdam Marathon where her goal was to run a PB - better than the 2h54 she ran at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon last month.
The Amsterdam trip was her prize for being athlete of the year at her club Massmart. Babili has had a splendid year which saw her win the CapeGate Vaal Marathon, finish top 10 at Two Oceans and top 20 at Comrades.
She is still rough around the edges, but there can be no denying she is a talent that will go places if properly supported. Like Mbuthuma though, she has the burden of having to hold down a full-time job so she can't fully focus on her running.
Xaba’s story is just beautiful. This young girl from Mpumalanga is sure to be the female version of Stephen Mokoka who trains her. She has excelled in track from her earlier years and is a star of cross country - having retained her 10km title earlier this year.
She added the national road 10km accolade to her collection for a 2019 season that has seen her debut in the half marathon. And there she shone too, winning the national championship title and then going on to run the third fastest half marathon by a South African woman in her first international race in Buenos Aires.
She was running the a half marathon in Portugal this morning, also with the goal of achieving a PB.
The likes of Xaba and Babili are but just the tip of the iceberg of the immense talent that is in the country. And with proper nurturing and support, there can be no denying our women can shine on the road.