London Marathon: Tshikila runs from adversity: South African has unusual incentive on Sunday

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The Independent Online
THERE is nothing in the world quite as boring as a runner on the subject of their hamstring injury; or their referred back pain; or their not-quite shin splints. Most top-class performers are fragile and obsessive creatures for whom the smallest of physical discomforts take on traumatic status. Peter Tshikila is different.

On Sunday, this 31-year-old black South African runs in the London Marathon with a realistic hope of finishing in the top five. What makes this prospect remarkable is the fact that, just less than eight months ago, he was shot in the knee by a robber. The incident happened on 16 July in Tshikila's home town of Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Province, as he was helping to close up the general store run by his coach, Stanford Dondolo. Tshikila was left in a pool of blood as the two would-be intruders ran off.

'As I was looking at him lying there, I thought maybe the guy is dead,' Dondolo said. 'He managed to talk to me. But from the day Peter was shot, I started to lose hope. I said to myself, 'This is the end of the story'.'

It was a story which had begun in the mid Eighties, when Tshikila, who had helped Dondolo with deliveries for many years, finally persuaded him to act as his coach. Tshikila, who is almost totally deaf, had a promising career as a schoolboy runner, and once he teamed up with Dondolo, he began to make an impact on the road-racing scene in his country.

In 1989, he finished second in the Port Elizabeth marathon in a time of 2hr 10min 53sec, his best in the four marathons he has completed to date. The last of them came on 7 March last year when he finished fourth in Los Angeles, on their hottest day of the year, in a time of 2:17:22.

But then came the attack which left him in a Port Elizabeth hospital for nearly a month. The surgeons extracted a bullet from his left knee. Luckily for Tshikila, it was muscle rather than bone which was damaged.

The recovery was as painful as one might imagine. 'At first, I just allowed him to do long walks so that he stretched his muscles,' Dondolo said. Gradually he progressed to running, and in February, he ran 15 kilometres in 45min 28sec. A period of altitude training has left Tshikila confident enough to be aiming for a place in the top five. In the meantime, the two armed men who attempted the robbery have been apprehended by the police and sentenced to 20 years' and 16 years' imprisonment.

While Tshikila was in Los Angeles, he heard about an operation which was being pioneered in the United States to correct the form of deafness from which he suffers.

At the moment, Tshikila, who is 75 per cent deaf, but is able to hear loud noises, cannot afford to make the trip. But should he win some serious money on Sunday then his coach will advise his charge to spend some of it on the treatment which could transform his life.

That is what they call an incentive.