First black Comrades winner Samuel Tshabalala dies aged 65

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  • Samuel Tshabalala, the first black athlete to win the Comrades Marathon, passed away on Sunday.
  • Tshabalala won the race in 1989 ahead of Willie Mtolo.
  • His success at the time snapped Bruce Fordyce's  eight-year stranglehold on the race.

Samuel Tshabalala, the first black Comrades Marathon winner, died on Sunday, aged 65. 

This was confirmed by the Comrades Marathon Association's spokesperson Delaine Cools, who said Tshabalala was a barrier-breaking athlete as well as an exceptional human being.

When Tshabalala won the 1989 down-run in a time of 5:35:31, he not only became the first black athlete to win the Comrades but also broke Bruce Fordyce's grip on the race.

Until that year's success, Fordyce had won the race eight consecutive times from 1981.

Cools said Tshabalala's passing was a sad day for the organisation.

"It's indeed a sad day for the Comrades world. Sam wasn't just an admirable runner, but he paved the way for many other champions," Cools said.

"He was a distinguished gentleman and a wonderful person to know. He was a trailblazer the race didn't know until he was crowned champion back in 1989.

"He always showcased the true grit and determination that was part of every Comrades Marathon winner, but he did so with sheer and absolute humility."

Former Comrades Marathon Association chairperson Mervyn Williams, who had the honour of welcoming Tshabalala over the line in 1989, remembered that golden moment.

"It was my privilege, as Chairman of the CMA, to welcome Sam over the finish line on that memorable day in 1989," Williams said.

"Sam was indeed a gracious winner and fully deserved all the accolades as the first 'black man' to win the Comrades Marathon.

"May he rest in peace and my sincere condolences to his family."

1989 runner-up Willie Mtolo said Tshabalala's ground-breaking Comrades Marathon legacy is something that'll stay with him.

"He was a very good person. We ran a great race in 1989, and remained very good friends since then," Mtolo said.

"We had a lot to talk about every time that we met. I know that he was involved in assisting youngsters in his village with their running.

"That was Sam for you: helpful, encouraging, motivating, and a true inspiration. I will always remember him."

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