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My best will be at Athens: Ramaala

Harini Rana | February 15, 2004 14:14 IST
Last Updated: February 15, 2004 14:34 IST

He is so laid back that it seems he's just awakened from a nap. His running looks equally relaxed, until you look at his timings. Then you know this is a guy who's in a hurry, especially when there's a finish line a couple miles away.

Hendrik Ramaala (left) celebrates his victoryHendrik Ramaala won the title at the Standard Chartered Mumbai International Marathon, which was a much-expected result. But he finished bit later than expected, clocking 2:15:48 seconds.

"I struggled to keep my pace as there were lot of people around," he said, explaining why he fell short of the timing he had hoped for.

This is the first marathon win for Ramaala, and he seems satisfied with the outcome.

"I am happy with myself as to how I performed at the Mumbai Marathon. The conditions were tiring and the humidity levels were very high. But I survived and I won as well.

"It was a very different route; there were two bridges going up and up [the Peddar Road Flyover] and it does no good to my hamstring and calves. It causes a lot of pain," he said.

The 'veteran' of nine marathons started as one of the favorites when the high profile list of long distance runners braced the Mumbai roads on Sunday.

On the eve of the event he had said the wining time would be "around 2:10- 2:12".

"Today it took me around 66 minutes half way."

He is very modest, accepting the fact that he is the best.
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"It has been great run; there were few runners who were trying to chase me but at the uphill [referring to Peddar Road fly over] I just went ahead and they could not meet me. Also, the people were very supportive, everyone came to cheer us early in the morning which is a good thing."

Ramaala, one of the burgeoning second wave of runners from South Africa, out-legged plenty of his more harried competitors in 2002. The highlight of the year came early when he won the World's Best 10,000 metres in Puerto Rico in February, though he sees himself primarily as a marathoner.

As a child growing up outside of Petersburg, he concentrated on soccer, and helped his father in his small general store.

"Things did not work out. I was not going anywhere and hence I started running," he says, explaining how he took to distance running.

He moved to Johannesburg when he was 18, just as apartheid was coming to an end in the early 90's.

"Things were opening up for all the citizens of South Africa; people started to dream bigger dreams than our older brothers and sisters. We saw there were more possibilities for us.

"Initially there were smaller things happening and events were more local. But post the 1990s things started changing. We have adjusted well. There has been good infrastructure, good coaching facilities and school sport has improved."

The inclusion of South Africa in the 1992 Olympic Games, and Elana Meyer's silver medal in the 10,000, further raised those hopes, and also Ramaala's dreams.

Realizing he was "going nowhere" in soccer, he started jogging and hooked up with the running group at Witwatersrand University where he was studying law.

"The coach said I was not fit for soccer. I used to hit the ball really hard and I was always placed on the left front."

By 1993 he'd become one of his country's top runners, clocking 14:23 for the 5,000 metres on the track. Two years later he broke through, making the national team and placing 35th at the World Cross Country Championships in Durban.

He increased his training from a modest 100 kms a week, and placed 17th in the World Track Championships' 10,000 metres. Failing to advance to the final in the 1996 Olympic 10,000 metres, he began thinking about the marathon.

"Talent and dedication are the key elements in making of a world class athlete," he says.

Ramaala regards Haile Gebrasalessie as the most feared athlete. "He has made himself as a legend and he has been there on the top. "

So what does he think about the grueling 42.195 kms race?

"Marathon is a pain; it is very tough and I realized it later after I took part in marathons in the last four years. I have participated in nine marathons since 2002- 2004," he says.

In spite of his sub-par running, Ramaala still feels he can be among the world's best marathoners.

"In my mind, I can see myself running as fast as anyone. If I didn't think I could do that, I shouldn't even bother running. In South Africa now there are now no limits on what someone can achieve. That's how I feel about my running.

"I have made it on the South African team for the Olympics at Athens; a medal is the next thing on mind. I have not performed to my best and I feel my best will be in the coming Olympics at Athens."

Thirty-two years and peaking, Ramaala aspires a perfect ending for the fairytale called life.

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