MASERU — For four years Lesotho’s athletes have dominated South African marathon events.
They have conquered the Soweto, Two Oceans and Maponya Mall marathons.
Dubbed “the serious bunch of Lesotho athletes” by the South African media, Lesotho’s athletes have used the same strategy again and again: “Run behind all the competitors in a group and start making a move after completing the first 21km of the race.”
It’s a strategy that has worked so well for our athletes who have brought silverware to a country whose moments of glory in the sporting arena have been few and far between.
So they thought it would work at this year’s Two Oceans marathon.
How wrong they were.
Arriving in South Africa’s Cape Town for the Two Oceans marathon, after months of struggling to get permits from the Lesotho Amateur Athletics Association (LAAA), Lesotho’s athletes found the game plan changed.
So had the athletes they have dominated in previous competitions.
The locals failed to close the gap after the first 21km of the marathon and only managed to appear after 34km.
George Ntshiliza crossed the finishing line first, making him the first South African to win the race since 2003.
Lesotho’s Motlokoa Nkhabutlane, who had led the race for the last 10km, came 15 seconds behind Ntshiliza.
Lesotho’s other athletes Tsotang Maine and Moeketsi Mosuhli came third and forth respectively.
It was a bitter pill for defending champion Mabuthile Lebopo who did not even make it into the Top 10.
Nkhabutlane, who was running the race for the first time, believes he could have won the race had it not been for the battles he fought with the LAAA over permits.
“I had too much stress after failing to get permits in time from the Lesotho Amateur Athletics Association prior to the race,” Nkhabutlane said.
The ‘serious bunch of Lesotho athletes’ had been struggling to get permits from the LAAA for months.
The LAAA accuses the athletes of deliberately underperforming on national duty.
Their crime, according to the LAAA, is that they did badly at the 2008 Olympic Games in China and the Commonwealth Games in India last year.
The LAAA only agreed to give them the permits after intervention from parliament last Thursday.
The Two Oceans marathon was on Friday.
Nkhabutlane who led the race from about 43km to 55 km said he got tired the last kilometre of the race.
“I started running at about 39km and there were only three visible people in front of me.
“I ran faster, overtook them and realised there were still two more in front.
“That’s when I decided to run faster and started leading the race at 43 km.
“I was still fresh after overtaking the leader and stayed that way until I got tired the last kilometre of the race and he (Ntshiliza) overtook me and won the race.”
In the women’s category, Mamoroallo Tjoka also made this country proud by coming third after Russian twins Olesya and Elena Nurgaiexa.
Nkhabutlane said he was sure they could have done better had they got permits on time.
“Despite the fact that it was my first time running this race, the issue of permits contributed negatively to our performance.
“For example we had five local athletes (Mabuthile, Moeketsi Mosuhli, Teboho Sello, Warinyane Lebopo and Mpesela Ntlotsoeu) who finished in the Top 10 last year but four of them failed this year,” Nkhabutlane said.
For one who knows and has seen local athletes doing what they know best in South African marathons, it was impossible for them to win this race on Saturday.
Member of Parliament Sello Maphalla said on Friday: “We managed to get the Lesotho Sports and Recreation Commission to instruct the LAAA to issue the permits yesterday (Thursday).”
“They (athletes) had already left before the permits were issued and today they told me they got them,” he said.
Maphalla had been assigned by parliament’s social cluster portfolio committee to get the LAAA to issue the permits to the athletes.