This time of year brings back special memories for 1992 Two Oceans winner Israel Morake

Israel Morake, right, runs alongside Two Oceans Marathon record holder Thompson Magawana, left. Photo: Supplied by Israel Morake

Israel Morake, right, runs alongside Two Oceans Marathon record holder Thompson Magawana, left. Photo: Supplied by Israel Morake

Published Apr 11, 2024


Israel Morake gets emotional around this time of the year. It is a time that brings back memories of his greatest feat as an athlete. And now, at 66 years of age, he can only watch as youngsters emulate him.

Of course he can still run. But not in the way he did back in the early 1990s, between 1991 and 1994 when he earned four gold medal position finishes.

Most particularly, not the way he did in glorious 1992. And as thousands of runners descend upon the Mother City for this weekend’s running of the Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon, Morake finds himself reminiscing about his own moment in the country’s ultra running sun.

“Two Oceans weekend always makes me think about the good times I had at that race,” Morake, who now owns a running club ISMO Athletics Club and organises developmental races in underprivileged areas, says.

“All the memories of those races come flooding back. I think about the crowd in the morning as we make our way to the starting pens. The route and the encouragement the fans give you as you push for glory, and I get very emotional that I am no longer a part of all that vibe. I still wish I could be a part of the race. I feel I can go out there and perform. Sometimes I feel like I am still 32 and can go and race.”

The reality is he cannot, though, and he has made peace with it, delighted that at least once in his life he tasted the kind of glory that makes legends. He won the Two Oceans Marathon.

“It is somewhat surreal sometimes. But I know it happened thanks to who I have become through that victory. People recognise me and respect me because I won Two Oceans.”

The memory of that victory in 1992 is still vivid in the mind of the man from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape who had finished as runner up the previous year.

“I’d learnt lessons from the first one when I finished second. I had predicted I would win and I was even boasting that I was strong and that I will be with the lead bunch until the marathon mark. But Miltas (Tshabalala, the winner) had already left and even though I ran the fastest last 13 kilometres, I could not catch him.”

So in 1992, the man now popularly referred to as Bra Izzy knew not to let anyone leave him too much. He’d had a similar build up to the previous year and again was very fit.

“I was super strong and two weeks out I actually cut down on training. I was looking after myself; eating right and resting enough. I felt that my legs were okay and ready to go. It was now my mind that had to dictate terms. I made a mental plan of how I wanted the race to go, deciding where I needed to be by what time. I knew I’d trained to be a champion. My confidence also came from the fact that I had won the RAC Tough One (32km) earlier.”

And a champion he became, Morake overhauling title holder Tshabalala in the last two kilometres of a rain drenched race aptly referred to as The Three Oceans Marathon that year. The defending champion had taken the lead upon cresting Constantia Nek.

Such was his confidence that Morake, victory secured after he had overtaken Tshabalala, walked the final 200m to win in 3:15:56.

“I had to entertain the people,” he said of his walk “While it is a race we should never forget that we are in the business of entertaining those who line up the streets and fill up the finish venues to cheer us on.”

On reflection, he considers himself to have been blessed in that he got to train with the cream of South African running at the time, having joined Rand Athletic Club (RAC) upon landing in Johannesburg in 1975 where he came to live his domestic worker mother.

“That’s how I got to be close with those white guys- your Mark Page, Bob de la Motte, Mark Plaatjies and them, because my mom worked as a kitchen girl for the mlungus (whites). I ran with Bruce (Fordyce) and went to races with them. They were the cream of South African running at the time and I learnt a lot from them. The one black guy who was there was Ephraim (Thulani) Sibisi (the 1986 Two Oceans champion) and I picked up a lot from him too.”

Morake chuckles at the memory of how he ended up as a runner.

“I was a soccer player and I went to a club in Randburg for a game but when I got there on a Tuesday they had a running Time Trial. I was wearing soccer boots and I joined them and – I ran that eight kilometre Time Trial in 27 minutes and this white man called Jan Louw asked me who I was and where I was from. I told him that I was from the bundus he would not even know of. He advised me, no, actually instructed me, saying ‘don’t play soccer, do running, I will buy you running shoes’. He did and as they say the rest is history.”

It’s a history that is tightly linked to the Two Oceans Marathon – a race that will forever hold a special place in Morake’s heart, leaving him emotional whenever it comes along. All of it thanks to that victory in 1992.


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