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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

'We cannot afford to lose hope," says Ramaala as training continues at Zoo Lake.

Despite the suspension of events by Athletics SA (ASA) due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the country, it's business as usual for Hendrick Ramaala and his training group at Zoo Lake. Not even the pouring rain that has drenched most parts of the country could stop Ramaala's group from going on with their business. On Sunday just as he did on every other day of the week, Ramaala took his athletes through their paces to help them stay in shape.

Even though he does not support ASA's call to suspend all its national events, the 2004 New York Marathon champion turned coach has not allowed the setback to affect his athletes and their preparation for the Olympic Games and other competitions. "It's business as usual here. We are training in the rain with the hope that ASA will eventually open the races again. We are dreaming of dominating races locally. It's an Olympic year, and our runners need to start qualifying for the Olympics," Ramaala told the Top Runner.

Precious Mashele, Desmond Mokgobu & Maxime Chaumeton lead the pack during a training session at Zoo Lake. Photo Credit: Mosibodi Whitehead Media.

When ASA decides to reopen races, his athletes will be in tip-top shape. "I've repeatedly told our guys that we are not in a position to cancel our training sessions. We cannot afford to lose hope. Running is our bread and butter, and it's in our interest to keep on training. We train daily and do our sessions. We are highly motivated to keep on going because we want to try and qualify for the Games. As the coach, I'm eager to motivate them and make sure that they hold their heads high," explained Ramaala.

But the four-time Olympian did admit that Covid-19 poses a serious challenge to athletics in the country. As a former vice-President of ASA, he does not believe that the suspension of races and closing down the sport is the solution, especially while soccer and rugby continue. "We have seen the Soweto derby and Currie Cup final taking place on Saturday. We cannot keep on hiding, and it is about time viewers watch the athletes on TV next time. We risk losing sponsorships and them going to the sports that are active to gain mileage. Whether we like it or not, athletics is our business," said the retired marathoner who celebrates his 49th birthday today.

Ramaala training and coaching at his Zoo Lake training base which he has called home for over 25 years. Photo Credit: Sydney Mahlangu.

Desmond Mokgobu is one of his prominent members of the Zoo Lake Group who cemented his Olympic spot when he bettered his qualifying time with a personal best 2:09.13 at the Valencia Marathon in December. Mokgobu also competed at the IAAF world half marathon championships in October 2020 alongside Stephen Mokoka, Collen Mulaudzi, and Glenrose Xaba for Team SA. Precious Mashele won the Central Gauteng Athletics (CGA) cross country championships in Kagiso last month at a canter. But since that successful provincial cross country vent, there have been no opportunities for runners to race.

"We want to see races opening up. The young athletes need to keep on running. We must do so by practicing social distance, wearing masks, and sanitizing," said Ramaala. The father of two who has been married for over two decades said he regularly tells his athletes not to allow the frustrations of their current circumstances to get the better of them. "Athletics must continue every day. I tell athletes not to change their mindset all the time. The vaccines are coming, and it is a game-changer for us. Things will change for the better soon. We have to stay positive and hope for the best," Ramaala added. In the meantime, Ramaala's big training group keep themselves busy at Zoo Lake to stay in shape.

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