Makaza's encounter with a legend

HARARE - Meeting long-distance running legend Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia was a far-fetched dream for Collen Makaza.

That all changed two weeks ago when the Zimbabwean found himself wrapped up in the arms the two-time Olympic Gold medalist at the finish line of the Two Oceans Marathon in South Africa.

Makaza had put up an incredible performance at the Cape Town marathon, finishing second, two minutes behind winner Motlokoa Nkhabutlane of Lesotho, who crossed the line in 3 hours 10 minutes and 27 seconds.

The reigning World International Athletics Union 50km champion received R125 000 for his efforts but most importantly, a moment to savour, in the embrace from the legendary Ethiopian runner.

WARM EMBRACE: Collen Makaza, right, is overwhelmed after meeting running legend Haile Gebrselassie, left, at the finish line for the 2015 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town earlier this month. Pic: Times Media

“It was my first time to meet him. I have always been wishing to meet him but I never thought that would happen especially in that way,” Makaza told the Daily News on Sunday.

“He is an African hero. Even in Ethiopia there is a street named after him. That’s how celebrated he is. So it was an honour.”

In the end, it was the Zimbabwean, who is 11 years Gebreselassie’s junior, who ended up giving the world renowned runner some advice.

“We spoke at length about how he wants to take part in the Two Oceans Marathon next year and I gave him some tips on how to run the 56 kilometres race since he is used to 10 000 metres,” revealed Makaza.

The Chitungwiza-based athlete has set his sights on specialising in the Two Oceans Marathon and hopes to one day win the race.

Makaza first participated in the race in 2009 and finished in a disappointing 643rd place before 12th and 22nd place finishes in the following two years.

In 2012, he finally got his big break when he finished third in the race won by his compatriot Stephen Muzhingi.

The following year Makaza also made it into the top five when he secured fourth place while in 2014 it was a race to forget for the Zimbabwean as he came in 164th place.

“I won’t be running the Comrades Marathon this year. I want to specialise in this race and hopefully become a champion for many years to come,” Makaza said.

“Becoming a Two Oceans champion is a big thing because of the exposure and sponsorship that comes with it.

“We are also trying to get sponsorship from Zimbabwe because running with a Nedbank branded vest was not what I wanted. It was actually a last minute thing. There was no choice.”

In addition to branding Makaza, Nedbank caters for the transport needs and accommodation of the Bindura-raised long distance runner.

“It’s small things but the coverage they get is big,” Makaza said. “They also give me about  R5 000  but I would rather have all this coming from a Zimbabwean company.

“It’s not like we are not trying but here people don’t understand the kind of mileage that one can get from all this.

“You can imagine that the race was beamed live on SABC for more than 3 hours. The commentary will be ‘here is Collen Makaza of Nedbank.’

“There is a big opportunity for mileage but Zimbabwean companies don’t realise it.”

The Zimbabwe Prison Correctional Servicers employee is the founder of the Harare to Chitungwiza, Mr Pace Marathon.

He is, however, worried that many emerging long-distance runners are starved of events to express themselves.

“Zimbabwe is the number three nation in terms of numbers participating at the Two Oceans.

“We have love for the sport but there is not enough local races or one race big enough to give these athletes the platform they deserve.

“The recent Two Oceans had 27 000 participants, internationals were being charged R600. How much will the organisers get? It’s a lot, and an opportunity we are missing out on.

“In Zimbabwe, we don’t understand that. Even in Botswana they have the Gaborone Marathon live on Btv. We are not there yet.”

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