Thulani Sibisi is a former Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon champion, co-founder of the Old Mutual Soweto Marathon, and a running encyclopedia. When describing races and South Africa’s top road runners of the last 30 years, he rattles off names, titles, champions and dates, that when cross-referenced online and in the history books, are all 100 percent correct.
His involvement in running also stretches from participation to administration. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics he was manager of the South African team’s long-distance athletes. He performed the role again 12 years later at the Athens Olympic Games. More recently he’s commentated on both the Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades. Sibisi’s knowledge and passion for running are such that it’s no exaggeration to label him “Mr Marathon”.
It’s good to know, then, that a man of this dedication and enthusiasm for the sport is still involved with the Soweto Marathon.
In his guise as a member of the board of trustees for the Soweto Marathon, Sibisi speaks lovingly and proudly of the event he helped get off the ground. “For me, Soweto is one of the biggest road races in Africa,” he says. “There are not many events on the continent that can boast a route that runs down a street synonymous with two Nobel Prize winners.”
It’s no secret that the Soweto Marathon has had its struggles in recent years, but Sibisi sees a brighter future for the race. It’s a prediction he bases, rather ironically, on the successful past of the event.
Sibisi sees the return of Old Mutual as a good omen for the event. “When Old Mutual was involved in the past, the event was a success,” he says. “We unearthed top runners and attracted a quality field. I loved working with them and I look forward to working with them again. Having Old Mutual involved in the Soweto Marathon means we are on the right track once more.”
Previously, when Old Mutual was first involved with the Soweto Marathon, a series of 5km races were held in the build up to the main event. From these short distances great South African runners were born. “Poppy Mlambo, Lebo Phalula and her twin sister Lebogang, Hendrik Ramaala, Joshua Peterson … these runners all came from the shorter development races,” says Sibisi.
Some, like Peterson, went on to win Soweto and Two Oceans, while others like the Phalula sisters have developed into excellent middle-to-long distance runners. Ramaala, of course, is a previous winner of the New York Marathon.
“So you see,” says Sibisi, “the Soweto Marathon has a rich and varied past, but it also has an import role to play in the development of South Africa’s athletes. The future of this race is very important to the future of our runners.”
Sibisi never won his “own” marathon, but as a long-time runner he’s more than familiar with the surroundings. “This is an area that witnessed the writing of the Freedom Charter, which emphasised a non-racial society,” says Sibisi, “it’s special.”
Sibisi would run up and down Vilakazi Street when he was training for races. “When I did, I always thought of Madiba and Desmond Tutu and the great things they have done for South Africa. This is my hope for people who enter the Soweto Marathon, that they come and experience this history and think about where we have come from and where we are going.”