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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'The journey was hard but I’ve learned a lot. I sleep well these days' - Ramaala nominated for GSA

“I think I’ve figured it out!” Exclaimed the Entsika Athletic Club coach during an interview with #TheTopRunner. Hendrik Ramaala was sharing his eureka moment in response to a question about the transition from elite athlete to coach. Although he is better known for winning the 2004 New York Marathon, Ramaala is now gaining prominence as a coach after guiding Precious Mashele and Desmond Mokgobu to Olympic qualification and their debut appearance at #Tokyo2021. His efforts have been rewarded with a coach of the year nomination at the Gauteng Sport Awards, whose finalists were announced at a joyful luncheon on the banks of the Vaal River yesterday.

Ramaala poses with Precious Mashele (left) and Desmond Mokgobu (right) at Zoo Lake before they departed for #Tokyo2021. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

Gauteng MEC for Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation Mbali Hlophe’s eyes lit up as she emphasised the importance of having an awards ceremony to celebrate those who persevered through the most difficult of times when Covid19 laid waste to the sports economy. “We had to redirect a lot of our funds towards the pandemic and that’s why even last year we couldn’t have the sport awards,” revealed the woman who heads up a department that disbursed R28 million in relief funding during the Coronavirus lockdown.

It is difficult to find a better word to describe Ramaala’s work over the last year than perseverance. When competitions were few and athletes had given up on booking their Olympic ticket to Japan, the 4-time Olympian encouraged Mashele to keep trying after failing to hit the qualification standard on more than one occasion. The perseverance paid off when he watched his athlete nail the time on the very last day of the qualification window, and was included in Team SA to run the 5000m in The Land of Rising Sun.

Ramaala looks on as Maxime Chaumeton and Dylan van der Merwe complete a speed session at the Johannesburg Stadium. Photo Credit: MWMedia.

“I remember one time I had guys going to Olympics and world championships but then they all left. They moved to greener pastures,” he says thinking back to 2015 when Olympians Sbusiso Nzima and Lungile Gongqa trained under his watchful eye ahead of #Rio2016. “I had to rebuild again. It took us years. You need like four years to build an athlete. You need resources. You need patience. You need motivation. The journey was hard but I’ve learned a lot. I sleep well these days. I’m happy with myself. I think the journey is just starting now,” said a smiling Ramaala whose Zoo Lake Training Group also includes the reigning University Sports South Africa (USSA) 5000m champion Maxime Chaumeton.

Hlophe hopes that by rewarding Ramaala and others like him who made the province The Home of Champions in 2021, this will signal the end of what has been a devastating period for the South African sports economy and a return to something that resembles life before March 2020. “We really do want to get society excited about getting back to normality and this is one of the ways that we can be able to do so. Our department doesn't treat sports as something for fun. We also focus on the business of sports and arts,” she said.

The Gauteng Sport Awards takes place on the 14th of November at Gallagher Estate in Midrand where Ramaala will be up against Hendrick Petrus, Rocco Meiring and Ilse Roets in the Coach of The Year category. With the exception of the Sports Personality of The Year, all winners have been selected by a panel of judges. The public can vote for the Sports Personality (Temba Bavuma, Ntando Mahlangu, Kgothatso Montjane, Tatjana Schoenmaker) of the Year Award by visiting the Awards facebook page here.

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