SA duo’s triumph reclaims challenging 42km Soweto marathon
SA reclaimed the African Bank Soweto Marathon on Sunday, as Ntsindiso Mphakathi and Irvette van Zyl emerged victorious in the men’s and women’s events respectively.
The duo’s triumph in the notoriously challenging 42km race was a major fillip for a country still caught in celebration after the Springboks’ recent Rugby World Cup victory, and it was fitting that Mphakathi and Van Zyl were cheered on vociferously as they arrived first at FNB Stadium.
Mphakathi’s win, in particular, was a welcome relief for SA, as no male local had won since 2011. He breasted the rope in 2:19.13, ahead of last year’s winner, Ethiopian Daba Debele, and Tonny Skink of Zimbabwe.
It took three months of moderate preparation for Soweto runner Mphakathi to end SA’s long wait for a medal at this event, as his coach Hendrick Ramaala prioritised speed work for the athlete.
“I didn’t do too many races this year,” Mphakathi told reporters. “My last long race was the Comrades Marathon [in June]. After that, we did track work and I told my coach I could sense something big coming. And it happened today.”
Sunday’s win was an apt return for the athlete who had come close to podium for the past decade, finishing fifth last year. “Winning here was a big achievement for me,” Mphakathi beamed. “I have tried since 2013 and unfortunately I didn’t make it then. But it shows with patience you can achieve much. I nearly gave up but my coach pushed me.”
Van Zyl, meanwhile, had forecast a record but she cruelly fell 33 seconds short, coming in at 2:34.16 ahead of Selam Gebre of Ethiopia and Kenyan Faith Chepkoech.
“The dream [of breaking the record] is still there,” said Van Zyl. “This was again a torturous race, but I know it very well. When we got to Orlando Stadium [around the 30km mark] that’s when I broke away because that’s where the race really starts.”
Van Zyl has already qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympics, she said she’ll strive to improve her time, while Mphakathi has next set his sights on the Two Oceans ultra marathon.
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