'We as Africans have to stand together and make use of our expertise to get our athletes to achieve to the best of their abilities against the rest of the world,' says Nick Bester, Nedbank Running Club National Manager. 'The Nedbank Running Club structures have proved over the years that they do have the means to help talented athletes reach their true potential. That is why we decided to start up clubs in Zimbabwe and Lesotho as well. This will enable us to impact on so many more athletes' careers. This is just the start. Our long-term vision is to help athletes in other African countries as well.'
Mike Fokoroni, who won the Old Mutual Two Oceans Ultramarathon last year, will head up the Nedbank Running Club in Zimbabwe.
Bester is confident that a close working relationship among the various decisionmakers in long-distance running in Africa will be beneficial to the sport.
'Personally, I think it is exciting to have athletes from Zimbabwe, Kenya and Ethiopia competing in our local races as it lifts the standard of racing,' says Bester.
'Our local athletes tend to fall into a comfort zone if they just compete against each other weekend after weekend. The same goes for the athletes of the other African countries. The fact that youngsters get to race international athletes is sort of a reality check. It should be realised that not every young athlete has the means to race internationally.
'Ethiopia's Asefa Negewo is one international athlete who has already benefited from the Nedbank Running Club's long-term vision. In 2015 he set a best marathon time of 2:11:16 in Bloemfontein. Last year, 19 months later, he was nearly two minutes faster. This is quite an improvement by anyone's standards.'
Negewo won the Cape Town Marathon in a time of 2:08:42. Emannuel Tirop Keter (Kenia) finished second in 2:08:47, an improvement of more than six minutes on his previous best of 2:15:17 in 2014. Barnabas Kiptum of Kenya was third in 2:09:21, also a personal best for the 30-year-old.
It was the first time ever that three athletes managed to dip under two hours and 10 minutes in a local marathon.
According to Bester, there many talented young athletes in Zimbabwe and Lesotho who will never get to fulfil their true potential due to a lack of opportunities and support. The objective of the Zimbabwe and Lesotho clubs will be to identify and train future World and Olympic Champions.
The Nedbank Running Club Zimbabwe will then have the added benefit and privilege to be racing as a unit and will be able to compete for the team prize category in races.