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Running symbol for the youth of Lesotho: Thabiso Moqhali

Running symbol for the youth of Lesotho: Thabiso Moqhali
Pat Butcher

22 April 2000 – Belgrade - Shortly after he won the Commonwealth Games marathon in late 1998, the Lesotho government asked Thabiso Moqhali to come back home, and "be a symbol of running for the youth of Lesotho". Moqhali had been working and racing in neighbouring South Africa for close to 12 years. But the example that he has been setting for the two million citizens of his tiny mountainous nation since he went home was added to considerably, when he won the Belgrade Marathon on Saturday (April 22), beating a dozen Kenyans in the process.

Moqhali works on the development of young runners for the sports ministry in the Lesothan capital of Mazeru, and when he got the invite to Belgrade, he requested to bring two younger colleagues with him. One of them, Percy Sephooa rubbed defeat further into the Kenyan wounds in Belgrade, when he followed Moqhali home in second place.

"This will mean so much to young people in Lesotho, showing them we can win against big nations like Kenya," said Moqhali, smiling broadly and giving substance to his first name Thabiso, which means 'happy'. "If we can get more youngsters running well, maybe they won't have to leave like I did".

When he was a young 800 metres runner - contesting the Commonwealth Games heats against Steve Cram in Edinburgh 1986 - Moqhali was recruited to run for one of the famous South African mining clubs in the Orange Free State. He worked as a recreation officer in the township of Welkom, and drove the two hours home every weekend, to his village of Mazenod, which is 15 kilometres from Mazeru. The advantage there was that the running trails were situated at well over 3000 metres, higher than Welkom, and, as he puts it pointedly, "much higher than in Kenya".

Moqhali worked his way up through the 5000 and 10,000 metres, and ran his first marathon, the South African championships in 1989. He finished third in 2.12.30, but by the 1992 London Marathon, he had reduced his best to 2.10.55. He has yet to improve on that, but blames that on the tough courses and conditions he encounters. The Commonwealth race in Kuala Lumpur was hot and humid, worse he says than Belgrade, where the temperature rose to 27 centigrade (80F) by the finish.

"This is my best performance. I felt very good all the way. The time (2.15.08) was slow because of the heat, so I'm glad I already had the Olympic qualifying time. Going into the Olympics with a victory is the best way".