Comrades marathon record holder Leonid Shvetsov has thrown down the gauntlet to defending champion Stephen Muzhinghi ahead of Sunday’s race, saying his three wins were “unchallenged”.
The Russian returns to run for the first time since finishing second to the Zimbabwean in 2009, and then deciding to retire from the sport.
His return this year has been greeted with excitement across the board and he has been talking up his chances, saying he is now ready to end Muzhinghi’s reign.
“I’m here to win the race and anything less is out of the question,” Shvetsov boldly stated on Friday.
“There’s only one gold for me, that’s the big one.
“I say this without any disrespect to the others that finish in the top 10.”
The former Olympian and Russian marathon record holder, also played down his last defeat to Muzhinghi.
“It was me losing to him rather than him beating me,” he said.
“I don’t think he was challenged since I left.
“I am here now and hopefully that will be enough to change the winner on Sunday.”
The 2012 edition of the event will be run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in what is commonly known as the ‘down-run’.
Prior to the disappointment of 2009, Shvetsov set the record when he ran five hours, 20 minutes and 49 seconds in 2007 to surpass Bruce Fordyce’s mark from 1986.
He admitted that breaking the record again may be a possibility for someone else in the future, but not by him.
“I’ve been out of competitive running since my last race in 2009 and my comeback is still making progress,” he said.
“I don’t think it can happen on Sunday, but who knows?
“Records are meant to be broken and I’m sure one day it will be done again.”
Muzhinghi, meanwhile, played down the challenge in front of him, insisting he was not focusing on winning, but rather improving on his best time of 5.23:27 in the ‘down run’ which he recorded in his 2009 win.
“That is my main focus this year,” he said.
“I’m not feeling any pressure because I am defending champion.
“I’m just happy that Leonid is here this time, so there is some else that will get all the attention.”
The 36-year-old, who won the Two Oceans marathon earlier this year, is again the pre-race favourite and said he wanted to knock three minutes off his time.
“I’ll be extremely happy with a 5.20:00,” Muzhinghi said.
“That is my main aim and will satisfy me most.”
The main South African challenge is expected to come from Fanie Matshipa, Gift Kelehe and the confident Gert Thys. – Sapa