Is this the end of Stephen Muzhingi?

HARARE - It was a massive heartbreak for Zimbabwean athletics icon Stephen Muzhingi after coming 10th in the Comrades Marathon on Sunday, his worst finish in the world's greatest long distance ultra-marathon.

The record Comrades champion was keen to add another title to the glittering three he bagged in succession between 2009 and 2011. It was however, a different tale altogether as Muzhingi found the going tough in the “up” run coupled by a nagging calf injury.

South Africa’s Claude Moshiywa won the gruelling 87km race from Durban to Pietermaritzburg in a time of five hours, 32 minutes eight seconds.

Zimbabwe’s Mike Fokoroni finished eighth in 5:50:18 while Muzhingi clocked a distant 5:52:37.

“I have been running in pain and to do as well as I did is very satisfying,” Muzhingi said after the race.

The Zimbabwean’s fall from glory in the last two years, as statistics would reveal, is not because the emerging athletes are running faster, but in actual fact, it is Muzhingi who has since lost his pace.

His introduction to the Comrades Marathon in 2008 saw the 37-year-old finishing in third place. He then dominated the race in three successive years. In 2009, he powered home in record time of 5:23:27, the best time in the history of the race. Muzhingi made it a double the following year, although completing his race six minutes adrift of his previous time in 5:29:01 before clocking 5:32:45 in 2011.

This time around, Muzhingi was way off the record he set himself when he finished in 5:52:13.

Legendary country music maestro Kenny Rogers, in his internationally acclaimed hit “The Gambler”, said: “You have got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run.”

British football’s most successful manager, Sir Alex Fergusson, decided to call it quits on a high note after winning his 13th English Premiership title with Manchester United.

In Germany, Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes left at the end of last season having led his team to a treble, the first ever club to achieve the feat in the Bundesliga.

Didier Drogba walked away from Stamford Bridge after leading Chelsea to the Champions League glory in 2012.

Against this backdrop, it could have been a wise decision for Muzhingi to hang his spikes after winning the Comrades Marathon for a record three times, not a mean feat considering how he dominated the race for three years.

But for the patriotic Zimbabwean, who turned down South Africa’s financial overtures for him to change his citizenship, will not be easily forgotten, although people tend to remember the struggles more that the success. 

“After coming third in 2008, they came to me and offered me ZAR2 million to change my citizenship and become South African but I decided otherwise,” said Muzhingi in an interview.

“In 2009 and 2010, they increased the amount but I did not give in. It is better to be a hero in my own country that to take up South African citizenship.”

Stephen Muzhingi will surely remain a folk hero in his motherland Zimbabwe.

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