Top new star to play Comrades legend Mtolo?

2014-03-03 00:00

TODAY we will know whether an Oscar winner will star in a movie to be made in KwaZulu-Natal this year about legendary marathon runner Willie Mtolo.

Somalia-born Barkhad Abdi, who was up for an Oscar yesterday for best supporting actor for his role in Captain Phillips alongside Tom Hanks, is in negotiations to play Mtolo in the movie The Place That Hits The Sun, Mtolo’s long-time friend and mentor Ray de Vries said yesterday.

De Vries said apart from Abdi, the movie had recently also been given fresh impetus with the signing on of Noel Pearson (My Left Foot) as producer.

Joe Drape will direct the film.

Abdi has already won a British Bafta Award for his role in Captain Phillips.

“Wherever I go people know who I am, whether it is in New York, London or South Africa. It is just a pity that our South African children do not know what really happened in the late 1980s and how difficult it was for us as black people to scrape the money together to train and compete,” Mtolo said from his home in Underberg.

“This film will mean that many eyes will be opened and many people will remember the story that is not only about me, but about all the athletes of our time.”

Filming is expected in August/September in KZN, and Abdi’s signing up will help to attract the remaining sponsorship, said Drape.

Mtolo etched his name into sporting legend when he crossed the finish line in first place of the New York City Marathon in 1992.

The Place That Hits the Sun is based on the story of Mtolo and his friend and mentor, De Vries, and the unlikely friendship formed in apartheid South Africa in the late 1980s. At the time De Vries was a hotelier in Hillcrest on the route of the Comrades Marathon, and their friendship started when Mtolo came to stay at the hotel so that he could train to win the Comrades, said De Vries.

South African athletes were banned from competing in international sport for many years and most had given up hope of competing internationally.

Mtolo refused to give up.

After being denied the opportunity of running in New York in 1991 he was forced to watch the marathon from the sidelines.

Many would have given up at this stage, but this made him more determined to come back the following year to show what he was capable of.

On November 3, 1992 he returned and beat 35 000 other runners.

His victory signalled a triumphant return of South Africa into the world of sport.

“It was amazing to watch Willie crossing the finish line three minutes ahead of the next competitor in the world’s greatest marathon.The fact that international moviemakers are taking this to a global audience is mind blowing,” De Vries said.

Filming is expected to take six to nine months.

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