It’s a windy morning in Khayelitsha, but that doesn’t stop the husband and wife duo of Lungile and Ivy Gongqa from heading out for their morning run. Their sole purpose? To do the best they can in running, a sport that has given them so much hope and a chance at life, especially for Lungile.
Back in 2015, it was the dying stages of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon and Kenyan athlete Shadrack Kemboi was flying into the finish. There was nothing new here to see. Yet another East African athlete dominating a marathon. But just behind him, the lone figure of Lungile Gongqa, knees driving high, was sprinting. He eventually ran out of distance, but Gongqa crossed the line that day in 2nd place, in a new personal best time of 2:11:59. Not only had he just earned himself and his family a healthy purse of prize money, but Gongqa had run himself into the Olympic Marathon team that was set for Rio the following year.
The Olympic games is the pinnacle of every athlete’s dreams. And Gongqa, a quiet spoken man ho prefers to let his feet do the talking, found himself on the start line on the 5th of August 2016 amongst the greatest athletes in the World. “It was the best feeling ever, seeing people like Kipchoge (Eliud) and others who I only saw before on tv,” says Gongqa. The race unfortunately didn’t go to plan, with Gongqa having to step off the road in the harsh rainy conditions. He may not have managed to finish the race, but he was an Olympian.
After feeling in a bit of a slump after the DNF, Gongqa decided to attempt the Two Oceans Marathon again. After an attempt in 2012 which saw him finish 29th in his debut ultra, Gongqa set the bar high wanting to win. Standing on the start line as one of the fastest marathon runners in the field based off current times, Gongqa bided his time in the lead pack until they made their way to 50km, where on the long downhill to Kirstenbosch gardens, Gongqa threw in a surge that saw the Nedbank running club athlete storm to victory in a time of 3:09:38. “It was a wonderful moment for us as a family,” said Ivy. “Lungile showed that someone from Khayelitsha could do it and that if you have a dream you can achieve it through hard work.”
“When I was running with the other Lesotho guys towards 50km I could see that I was the one who had the most speed, but they were having great endurance, Gongqa said afterwards. “That is why at 50km I decided to go hard and if they wanted to come with me I was going to make them work the hardest for victory.” It was a tactic that worked well and brought more financial freedom to the family.
A defense of his title in 2018 didn’t go well, with Gongqa finishing 18th, a result that saw him then attempt Comrades. That also didn’t bode well for Gongqa, stepping off the course after halfway. “It felt like a very bad year in 2018 so I refreshed for 2019 also where I was turning 40.”
Two Oceans came around once again and it was a return in the golds for Gongqa who finished in 8th place in a time of 3:18:55. Just as was the case when Gongqa finished 2nd in Cape Town and saw himself in South African colors for the Rio Olympics, it was this performance which saw him selected for South Africa once again for the World 50km championships in Brasov, Romania.
Run in very warm and humid conditions, Gongqa had amends to make after stepping off the road 3 years previously in Rio. In one of the most competitive World Championships to date, the race became a 2 man race over the last 2 laps of the 11-lap course between Gongqa and Spanish athlete Iraitz Arrospide who like Gongqa, was an accomplished marathon runner. Gongqa ended up 2nd, earning a silver medal and in the process, led the rest of the South African men’s team to the team gold medal.
Nick Bester, national Nedbank running club team manager as well as the South African team coach was ecstatic about Lungile’s performance. “He ran with his heart on his sleeve and brought the team home,” said Bester. “The race was extremely competitive and besides it being very warm, all the athletes had their eyes on the South African athletes. When the South Africans picked up the pace, they did to. If we slowed down, they all slowed down.”
The sky’s the limit for 40-year-old Gongqa. “I am not done yet. I still see myself as one of the athletes to win the Two Oceans and the Comrades Marathons.” One thing for sure, every morning in Khayelitsha come rain or shine, the figures of Lungile and Ivy Gongqa will be seen in the streets chasing their dreams. Just as Ivy said, “Anyone can achieve their dreams as long as they work hard. It doesn’t matter where you come from.”
The Nedbank running club are proud of Lungile’s achievements and are with him and Ivy every step of the way.