South Africa Loses A Distance Legend

Zithulele Sinqe was one of South Africa"s greatest runners. Photo: Gallo

He perished in a car accident.

Zithulele Sinqe was one of South Africa"s greatest runners. Photo: Gallo

Written by: Riel Hauman
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Zithulele Sinqe, one of South Africa’s best distance runners during its golden era of road running in the eighties and early nineties, was killed in an automobile accident in Balfour near Johannesburg last Thursday. Sinqe, who at the peak of his career held both the national marathon and half-marathon records, was 48.

After he retired from running kSinqe became well known as a television commentator on the sport and developer of young athletes, while he was also active in administration. He went to live in the village of Balfour in 2010 and formed the Dipaleseng Athletics Club with help from Burnstone Mines. The club focused on schools in the area.

“Our club is aimed at developing the sport in our communities. We hope to start producing top runners in three years’ time,” Sinqe said when the club was announced.

In 1985, 1986 and 1987 Sinqe was involved in three of the most exciting finishes ever seen in a South African road championship race. On July 20, 1985 in Durban he and Matthews Temane both clocked 1:02:19 in the SA Half-Marathon for a new national record, with Temane getting the nod for the win.  On May 3 the next year Sinqe fought Willie Mtolo in a thrilling battle in the SA Marathon in Port Elizabeth. The course was aided, but their times were phenomenal: After cutting a deficit of 63 seconds at  25 km, Sinqe caught Mtolo just beyond 35 km – having run the previous 10 km in 28:41! – and then sped away in the last kilometre to win in 2:08:04 to 2:08:15.  Globally only Rob de Castella, with his 2:07:51 in Boston, was faster than Sinqe that year. (The Boston course drops 139 meters from start to finish; the 1986 Port Elizabeth course dropped 129 meters. At the time the South African rules allowed a course of this nature, so Sinqe’s time was recognised as the SA record.)

A little more than a year later, on July 25, 1987 in East London, Sinqe and Temane squared off once more in the SA Half-Marathon. It was a replay of the titanic 1985 confrontation and the result was the same, but this time they ran considerably faster. Unfortunately this course was also aided (it dropped 46.5 m); nevertheless, their 1:00:11 was the fastest in the world that year.

Twelve weeks earlier Sinqe had retained his national marathon title with a win in 2:10:51 on a standard course in Stellenbosch. This remained his fastest marathon on an internationally accepted course; his half-marathon PB on a legitimate course, 1:01:16, was run in Cape Town in 1988.

His 1986 Port Elizabeth marathon time is still eleventh on the SA all-time list (he is the fifth fastest athlete), while his and Temane’s half-marathon time has been beaten only by Hendrick Ramaala (four times, with only his 1:00:07 SA record on a standard course).

In 1992 Sinqe finished second in the SA Marathon in 2:11:47. Over the next few years he won the Sydney Marathon in 1994 (2:14:12, a course record that still stands), the Soweto Marathon in 1995 (2:18:03), the Guadalajara Marathon in 1997 (2:17:27) and the Detroit Free Press Marathon in 1998 (2:18:51).

In 1996, at the age of 32, he turned to the ultramarathon and scored a narrow victory of 5 seconds over Dmitri Grishine (RUS) in the Two Oceans Marathon over 56 km. His time of 2:09:45 was the seventh fastest ever in the grueling race. The next year he came back and ran much faster to win comfortably in 3:07:17, the fourth fastest in history.
In 1998 he attempted to become the second runner ever (after Siphiwe Gqele in 1985) to win three times in a row, but was beaten decisively by Fusi Nhlapo.

He ran the Comrades ultramarathon in 1997 (a “down” run) and finished fourth in 5:33:18.

Sinqe was born in Umtata on June 9, 1963, and received national colours in 1986, 1987 and 1988. His other PBs were 28:30 (10 km, 1986), 44:10 (15 km, 1992) and 2:47:39 (50 km, 1997). He leaves his wife and three children.

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