Sneak peek inside the camp of Comrades champions

Coach John Hamlett and his Entsika Athletics Club charges. Picture: Daniel Mothowagae/City Press
Coach John Hamlett and his Entsika Athletics Club charges. Picture: Daniel Mothowagae/City Press

Sharing the same establishment as the Entsika Athletics Club elite athletes in Durban gave Daniel Mothowagae an inside view of what goes down behind-the-scenes when top runners are counting down to the Comrades Marathon

The newly constructed Savannah Park apartments are situated on the outline of a developing area in the affluent suburb of Umhlanga, some 18km away from hustle and bustle of the city centre.

This is an ideal set-up coach John Hamlett always wishes for.

Known as “Colonel Coach” owing to his background as a former military officer, Hamlett has guided three men to Comrades triumph – Andrew Kelehe in 2001; Gift Kelehe (Andrew’s younger brother) in 2015 and David Gatebe in 2016.

“Now it’s crunch time – there’s lot of happening… the logistics and so,” Hamlett told City Press around lunchtime.

At apartment Number 122, Gift and his clubmates were tackling pap with tomato gravy and grilled chicken drumsticks, which were all prepared at the self-catering establishment.

“Athletes get so excited they forget to eat. They are getting nervous. It’s the same with soccer players.

Once they have settled down after eating, I’ll visit each one in his room to have a discussion to set the game plan for the race,” noted Hamlett, his distinctive bald head beaming from sunshine.

“The intent with the game plan is obviously to ensure that they know exactly what they are supposed to do. We don’t want any mistakes.

“And to make a tactical mistake at this late stage is a bit of foolish thing.

“This is where the coach comes into the equation. You take the possibility of a winner and now you’ve to equate him to a strategy and make sure this strategy is right for race day – taking into consideration the opposition and all the challenges.”

Hamlett emphasised that “we really want those gold medals because we have worked hard for it”.

After all, his group take to the ultimate Human’s Race, the legs with substantial mileage having spent eight weeks at a training camp in Dullstroom in Mpumalanga.

“The guys have been doing anything from 270km to 300km a week training,” noted Hamlett.

He has his money on Gift, who in turn vowed at the pre-race conference on Friday that he wanted to take the 83.86km long up-run, which starts at the Durban City Hall and ends at the Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg.

“I believe he’s right,” said Hamlett of his trump card.

“He is not a man of many words and when he does say something he’s very honest. He’s not bragging - we’ve not Americanised yet,” he chuckled.

There is also Siya Mqambeli, who Hamlett maintains is over his apprenticeship and can now stand up to the big boys.

“Gordon Lesetedi got his gold last year and realised that he can run with the champions and I think it opened his eyes.”

Lesetedi came sixth in the down run that was won by Bong’musa Mthembu.

And will the Entsika hopefuls sleep at all ahead of the 5.30am take-off? I ask Hamlett.

“Friday was an important sleep time. We got the guys to bed at 9pm.

“But even if you have big-match mentality – you’ll be tossing and turning thinking about your race – you won’t sleep properly.”

The champion coach is also hoping that his other charge, the women’s defending champion Ann Ashworth, is in good shape to make it back-to-back wins.

“We would like the first lady, and of course the first man. We’d like to get three to four gold medals [top 10] in our camp.”

· Daniel Mothowagae is in Durban as a guest of Entsika Consulting

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July 2020

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