Charne Bosman, the friendly champion

The 2016 Comrades Marathon champion might be going to Cape Town just to train, but don’t be surprised if she ends up on the podium as the winner of the Two Oceans Marathon.

“Our leading lady is making her way into the finish,” the announcer’s voice booms inside the arena. “She should be here anytime, and it is none other than Charne Bosman.”

The crowd moves closer to the railings, eager to catch a glimpse of the winner. She comes into sight, only this time in the yellow and black of her new club, Murray & Roberts, instead of the green of her former club, Nedbank Running Club. But that trademark ungainly run remains, as does the wry smile that is always on her face, the toughness of the race notwithstanding.

The crowd grows restless, eager to catch a glimpse of their favourite long-distance runner, their role model, the woman who makes them believe it is possible.

“We love you Charne!!!” they scream.

Focused as she is on reaching the finish line, Bosman still acknowledges them, smiling and lifting her hand up as she approaches the ribbon.

“I am always trying my best to make time for my fans,” Bosman says.

It’s a few days after she won the 50km Om die Dam Ultra Marathon when we meet at the High Performance Centre at the University of Pretoria. Bosman has just completed a gym session, having earlier done a 40km run. The people in the restaurant clearly recognise her and some of them give her a warm smile, which she gladly returns.

The making of a humble champion

The superstar that she is, the former Comrades Marathon champion and multiple marathon (42.2km) and half-marathon (21.1km) winner is in no way aloof. She is arguably one of the most humble sport stars in the country, as evidenced by her behaviour during races, when she readily engages with runners and supporters on the road.

“I learnt a lot from my grandfather, who was a top minister in the old South African army. Even though he was a big man with a very top position, he was a very humble man who was accessible to people. I liked that about him.”

The humility clearly rubbed off on a young Charne, as she went on to become a caring person who is big on lifting others up.

“I believe that we’re not here [on Earth] just for ourselves. We are here to help and to inspire other people. So I cannot be too proud. I grew up seeing many sportspeople getting too big-headed and I decided I will be a real person, that I will never let it [the success] all get to me.”

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It is for this reason that Bosman has taken a number of athletes under her wing.

“There’s a lot of young athletes that I am coaching online. And it gives me such great pleasure to know that I am inspiring someone out there. I want them to trust me so I am not afraid to share with them exactly what it is that I do, be it training or what I eat and my rest patterns. I even share videos that have helped me in my running with them.”

Bosman’s attitude is not plucked from the ether. It has to do with her upbringing.

“My parents were always supportive of me and my career. But what they made me realise early on is that the talent I have is God-given. It is not something to take for granted and when my dad died in 2013, I realised that what we value in life could easily be taken away from us in a flash. So I know that tomorrow, I might not be here and because of that I do not waste my time in negativity. I do not like to fight and I do not like to create enemies.”

And how does she relate to her competition?

“Of course we want to beat each other in races, but we are not enemies. We talk with the other girls and we often exchange friendly banter when we are around each other. Just the other day Gerda [Steyn, the Two Oceans champion] congratulated me on my win at Om die Dam. You can’t be jealous of others. It just takes a lot out of you. We all work hard to do well and if someone wins, I am happy for her.”

Two Oceans as preparation for Comrades

Talking of winning, Bosman will not be going to the 50th running of “the world’s most beautiful marathon” – the 56km Old Mutual Two Oceans – on Saturday 20 April with the objective of finishing first.

“My coach, Lindsey Parry, has a plan and I know he is not interested in us winning it. We’re going there to train for Comrades.”

That could well be the case, but given that she was also in “training” when she won Om die Dam, rule out a Bosman victory at your peril. Already this year, Bosman has shown a remarkable form that suggests she could well win a second Comrades title following her victory in 2016.

There was success at the Johnson Crane Marathon in January, where she blitzed to a pretty fast 2:44:52, half-marathon success at the Deloitte Pretoria Marathon Challenge as well as the 48km Irene Ultra, and a second spot at the Dischem Marathon. The victory at Om Die Dam came somewhere in between all those. Winning, it would appear, is in the DNA of the full-time athlete who is in her 20th year of running, having earned her spurs as a track athlete.

Growth of women’s running

As she looks at the growth of women’s running in South Africa, and their successes in the ultra marathons in particular, she interestingly traces it back to the emergence of a runner many see as her rival.

“Since Caroline [Wöstmann] won Comrades in 2015, women’s road running in South Africa has been to the next level. Her victory made us realise that we have what it takes to beat the internationals and, because of that, there has been a resurgence of a lot of good female ultra runners.”

Talking up a rival, now that is a rarity in elite sport. But then again, Bosman is not your normal sports superstar, is she? Ask many a social runner who has encountered her during a race or at race venues following marathons and they will attest to the fact that she is among the most humble and accessible elite athletes in the country.

No wonder her victories are celebrated by most. In Cape Town on 20 April, supporters will be cheering her on, whether or not she’s going for a victory in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon – and don’t be surprised if the announcer booms “Charne Bosman” when the first woman runs into the stadium.

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