Khayelitsha’s Lungile Gongqa turned heartbreak into sporting heroism and hope for a new generation of athletes from poverty-stricken Cape flats when he crumpled over the finish line of the Two Oceans Marathon on Saturday, overcome with emotion.
Running in Nedbank colours, Gongqa twice staved off Lesotho athletes Warinyane Lebopo and Teboho Sello over the 56km course to reach the finish line in a time of 03:09:43.
At the Rio Olympics, the diminutive runner had clashed with coach Hendrik Ramaala and crashed out of the marathon at the 35km mark, seeing his hopes of emulating the late Josiah Thugwane in winning gold go up in flames. On Saturday, Gongqa put that disappointment well and truly to bed.
In being the first runner home at the University of Cape Town sports fields, Gongqa became the first champion from Cape Town since 1973 and the first South African to triumph in the race since Free State athlete David Gatebe came good in 2013. The result was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was his very first outing over the ultramarathon distance.
Gongqa’s stunning victory in Cape Town was the culmination of a series of strong performances since the start of the year. He finished 12th in the Mumbai Marathon in January‚ was the runner-up in the Cape Peninsula Half-Marathon in February‚ and he won the Western Province and Milkwood half-marathons in March.
The 38-year-old bagged R250 000 for his efforts and would have banked four times as much had he broken Thompson Magawana’s mark of 3:03:44, which was set in 1988.
He is the second sportsman from Khayelitsha to make headlines in recent times after Proteas star Temba Bavuma became the first black cricketer to hit a century in 2015.
As for his immediate plans, Gongqa will be reverting to the more familiar marathon distance and will not be competing in the Comrades Marathon in June.