Ubuntu reigns at Comrades

2009-05-25 00:00

THE spirit of African ubuntu flowed freely at the 2009 Comrades Marathon when South Africans applauded the triumph of Zimbabwean national, Stephen Muzhingi.

Thousands packed the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium early to catch a glimpse of the winner and cheered when they heard that the tiny Muzhingi had taken the lead from last year’s winner, Russia’s Leonid Shvetsov, at Cowies Hill near Westville, only 13 km away from the finish. Vuvuzelas blared each time Muzhingi’s name was announced, clear evidence that people were rooting for an African winner.

People jostled to watch as Muzhingi entered the stadium to the Comrades theme song, Chariots of Fire. When he crossed the finish line, an exhausted Muzhingi fell to the ground.

With trembling legs and clasped hands, he acknowledged the crowd, whom he later praised at the press conference for their support along the route.

Soon after the top men runners — including Pietmaritzburg’s Bongmusa Mthembu, who finished seventh — entered the stadium, the festivities intensified as spectators helped the runners celebrate their finish.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize, minister of Transport Sbu Ndebele and deputy mayor Logie Naidoo were among the dignitaries to congratulate the top runners.

While Shevstov battled to contain his emotion at the finish, he quickly congratulated Muzhingi, who smiled and waved at supporters in the stand.

The Russian was clearly in a lot of pain as he walked towards the drug testing tent. Later, he admitted that he experienced severe cramping during the race and described the last 10 km of the race as the “hardest in my life”

Muzhingi’s friend and running partner, Collen Makaza, who dominated the race from the start, scooped two “hotspot” prizes in Camperdown and Drummond: he won R17 000 for being the first runner to pass these places along the route.

Even though he did not finish in the top 10, Makaza said he enjoyed the race and was ecstatic that Muzhingi had done so well.

“The team is very happy for him, he has made us and his family very proud. I know that he will be back next year,” he said.

Muzhingi’s coach and his team manager, Cliff Chinnasamy, said: “Zim definitely rules the Comrades. I knew that he would do well,” he said.

Chinnasamy said the support from the crowd was “electric” and one of the reasons, that Muzhingi had stayed so motivated.

“South Africans are great people. Today is a special day because they have wholeheartedly supported their neighbour. This is something Stephen will never forget,” he said.

He said that a big party was planned for Friday to celebrate Muzhingi’s win.

While some runners had records to beat, others just had fun along the route. Dressed in funny outfits and colourful wigs, many used the day to build friendships and enjoy the province’s warm weather.

Some runners were so excited that they made it to the finish before the cut-off, and even danced and skipped to the end.

And even though some 4 000 runners did not complete the race, the organisers say that this year’s event was the best ever.

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