Samuel Tshabalalafirst draft Comrades Marathon winner, died on Sunday at the age of 65.

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When Tshabalala won the 1989 downhill in 5:35:31, he not only became the first black athlete to win the Comrades, but also broke Bruce Fordyce vice-like grip on race.

Prior to that year’s success, Fordyce had won the race eight times in a row since 1981.

Fordyce paid tribute to Sam Tshabalala in a tweet.

After setting a time of 6:10:40 at his very first Comrades in 1987, Tshabalala continued to improve with 5:54:34 the following year.

In only his third Comrades run in 1989 – and his first Down Run (with both previous years being Up Runs) – Tshabalala made history as the first black man to win the Comrades Marathon.

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His time of 5:35:51 was more than four minutes ahead of second place Willy Mtola.

Inspired black runners

This historic victory would inspire black runners for decades to come.

Many future winners attributed their passion for running to Tshabalala, especially when he faced the adversity of a horrific car accident in 1991 that left him with a long recovery and severe injuries.

Intrepid Sam Tshabalala came back to run under 6:30 in 1992.

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During his Comrades career, Sam Tshabalala managed 13 finishes, with one gold and 12 silver medals.

For his momentous achievement and immense contribution to the sport of ultra-distance running, the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) awarded Tshabalala the prestigious Platinum Medal in 1998.

With the introduction of the official Comrades Winners Jacket in 2016, CMA presented Tshabalala with a retrospective jacket in 2019 for his performance in 1989.

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Both on and off the field, he was known and respected for his humility, kindness and dedication.

Sam Tshabalal’s death has sparked tributes

He motivated a whole generation of comrades, runners and spectators; and instilled the desire to dream, win and achieve in many of today’s fellow champions.

CMA Chairman, Mkondisi Ngkoba said “We live in gratitude to fellow winners, Heroes and Legends. What Mr Tshabalala has done for ultra running and our generation of athletes is an integral part of our road running history and great South African heritage. He showed us how to be courageous, great, and at the same time humble and authentic.”

Ngcoba added, “Sam was a trailblazer and a pioneer. He was a man who lived the noble attributes of the highest human race through his determination, will to succeed and unceasing giving of himself. He will be sadly missed by the Comrades community and all who knew him.”

1989 Tav Willy Mtola said “Sam was at Comrades in 2019 and it was great to meet him after so many years. He was a very good man. We had a great race in 1989 and have remained very good friends ever since. Every time we met, we had something to talk about. I know that he helped the youth in his village with running. That was Sam for you – helpful, encouraging, motivating and a true inspiration. I will always remember him.”

Former CMA Chairman, Mervyn Williams said “As Chairman of the CMA it was a great honor to welcome Sam to the finish line on that memorable day in 1989. Sam was indeed a good winner and fully deserved all the accolades for being the first “black man” to win the Comrades Marathon. . May he rest in peace, and my sincere condolences to his family.”

President of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics, Steve Mkasey said “I was far away in Uganda when I first heard about Sam winning the Comrades Marathon in 1989 and then saw his victory photo with the Comrades laurel wreath. This image is deeply rooted in my mind. It was an incredible moment. As a runner myself, I knew all too well what Sam’s victory meant to every South African. This image of “Comrades” lives in me to this day. Gone but never forgotten. May his soul rest in peace.”

1991 Tav. the winner Nick Bester said “Sad news. I’ll never forget Sam at the Comrades Marathon in 1989 when he passed me with his running cap on, and he had a cap with a flap at the back that covered his neck, and he won the race as the first black athlete to do so. Willy Mtolo finished 2nd, Jean-Marc Belloc 3rd and I 4th. Sam also ran the Friends Marathon again many years after he was involved in a horrific car accident. A true Comrades Marathon champion, he was always down-to-earth and humble.”

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