Ramaala to run the gauntlet of critics

As many South Africans celebrate casting their vote, Hendrik Ramaala will be out to prove that he still has the legs to conquer the international marathon circuit.

The long-distance runner will be among the 36 000-strong athletes at the starting point of the London Marathon on Sunday morning.

Ramaala (37) last tasted international success when he won the New York City Marathon and the Mumbai Marathon in 2004.

‘That is a memorable time of my career, things were just going my way,” he told the Mail & Guardian this week.

Since then a lot has been expected of the South African athlete. Newspapers have been writing rave previews on him as the country’s medal hopeful in every international marathon he enters.

However, he has not lived up to expectations, managing only four podium positions in the past four years. One of his worst performances was at last year’s Beijing Olympics marathon, where he finished a disappointing 44th.

He describes 2008 as a very bad year for him. ‘As an athlete you go through such times and it was that time for me. I really had a bad run last year, things simply did not go my way.” But take nothing away from the man regarded as the country’s top marathon runner. He needs to up his performance internationally to retain his crown and there is no better day than Sunday to do that.

On paper he goes into the race as the fifth fastest, with a time of 2:05:55. But the question is: does he have the strength to come out tops?

During the 2007 race Ramaala stayed with the leading pack until the last 600 metres when everyone besides him sprinted to the finish line.

This year’s marathon won’t be easy for the South African, as it is known for attracting top runners from across the world.

Among those who will feature on Sunday are defending champion Martin Lel of Kenya with a record time of 2:05:15; Sammy Wanjiru, winner of the Beijing Olympic Games marathon last year; and Felix Limo and Emmanuel Mutai, also from Kenya. Other top runners include Yonas Kifile (Ethiopia) and Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco.

‘Lel has been winning but I think I can beat him on the day. I can only hope that I have a good day so I can win and prove wrong critics who think I don’t have the legs to run any more.

I’m also going to keep a low profile when I arrive in London on Thursday because I want to surprise people on the race day,” said Ramaala.

Keep the powerful accountable

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Lucky Sindane
Guest Author

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