Johannesburg - It’s not often that the record holder of a race finds themselves described as a “dark horse”, but David Gatebe finds himself in that category going into next Sunday’s Comrades Marathon.
Gatebe, who won the marathon and set the current down run record of five hours, 18 minutes and 19 seconds a couple of years ago, was handed the underdog tag by his Entsika Athletics Club coach John Hamlett.
Hamlett made the call based on the fact that Gatebe (37) hasn’t been part of the eight-week camp the rest of the team have had in Dullstroom, Mpumalanga, because of a housebreaking incident that happened when he was in the farmhouse that is their camp last year.
“The guys had broken in and were in the house, so he shouted at them and they ran,” remembered Hamlett.
“Nobody got hurt, but athletes can be highly strung and more affected by things than it may seem.
“So we decided that, because of that experience, it wouldn’t be psychologically good for him to be there. So he’s been training on his own in Rustenburg. It’s probably not right to call him a dark horse - maybe he’s our secret weapon!”
With Gatebe out of sight and almost out of mind, team-mates Gift Kelehe (the winner in 2015) and Prodigal
Khumalo have put up their hands as the club’s favourites.
“I’m excited about Gift, he’s looking good. He’s been blasting through everything in the mountains without even trying,” said Hamlett.
“Khumalo’s got gold before and now he wants a podium place.”
Hamlett said that it had worked out well for them that the race had been pushed back to June 10 because it gave the athletes an extra week to rest and recover after other races.
Of course, not much speculation about the potential winner of the Comrades can be made without mentioning defending up run champion and 2014 down run winner Bongmusa Mthembu of Arthur Ford Athletics Club.
Mthembu’s shown that he can run up and down, and he’ll be one to watch next Sunday.
While this year’s tagline for the race may be Asijiki - meaning no turning back - it would appear that is the case for some. Last year’s women up run winner and US national Camille Herron and Dominika Stelmach from the Nedbank Running Club, as well as 2015 winner Caroline Wöstmann and Jenna Challenor from the KPMG Running Club, all pulled out with injuries.
Herron’s withdrawal with a quad strain marks an unlucky relationship with the down run, which saw her start it ill in 2014, passing out at the 83km mark and ending up in hospital for her efforts. But Nedbank team manager and former Comrades winner Nick Bester didn’t expect her absence to derail the club’s plans to take over the world next Sunday.
“We’ve got enough firepower and we expect to have six women in the top 10, so we’ll be okay,” he said.
Bester said he expected Two Oceans Marathon winner Gerda Steyn and Charné Bosman to lead the charge for the win, Sarah Bard in the top four, and Fikile Mbuthuma and Swede Frida Södermark to get gold medal placings.
Bester said the Nedbank athletes had been training at seven camps around the country, with about two or three athletes in each to stop them from “racing each other in training” and burning themselves out.