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Best of the best out to break records

Opinion

I cant' help but feel I am going to be part of a big event, a momentous occasion that is likely to live on long in memory.

Of course the Comrades Marathon is a big deal. It is, after all, regarded as one of, if not the, toughest ultra races in the world.

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Runners compete in the Comrades Marathon. File Photo: Rogan Ward/Reuters

And come June 4, I am going to be among the 20 000 runners lining up at the start at the Durban City Hall, hoping and praying that our legs take us all the way to Pietermaritzburg’s Scottsville Race Course within the allotted 12 hours.

But this is not going to be any other Comrades. Like last year’s down run, indications are that the long-standing course record held by Leonid Shvetsov is going to fall. Ditto for the 21-year-old female mark set by Elena Nurgalieva.

“This year’s up-run will certainly be something to watch. Both Shvetsov’s 2008 up-run best time of 5:24:49 in the Men’s Race and Nurgalieva’s 2006 best time of 6:09:24 in the Women’s race could well be under threat,” said race director Rowyn James.

He was not exaggerating.

The line-up for the 87km race is teeming with talented men and women capable of sending those two records tumbling.

The Comrades Marathon Association has released a list of who they believe are the top contenders for the title and looking at those men and women, it is actually sad that ultra running is not a sport celebrated in this country.

We are world champions at the 100km for Pete’s sake, but even that fact is lost on many except the road-running fanatics.

South Africa has, after all, only three sports – soccer, rugby and cricket. So lowly are the rest of the other sports regarded.

But get closer to the other sports, ultra marathons in this regard, and you will get to appreciate the talent our country is blessed with.

What David Gatebe did last year when he smashed Shvetsov’s record to smithereens was absolutely incredible.

The year before Gatebe had finished in silver medal position on the up run with Gift Kelehe triumphant. They were both in the South African team that conquered the world in Spain for the 100km title and are understandably both among the favourites for next month’s event. And having had the privilege of visiting their camp, I can safely suggest to any punter to put their money on either.

And then there’s my cousin, Ludwick Mamabolo. A consistent performer in the ultras, Modibe can always be relied upon to produce a super performance at the ultimate human race he won back in 2012. He was runner-up last year.

David Gatebe winner of the 2016 Comrades Marathon. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Add his teammate and 2013 champion, Claude Moshiywa, to the mix and you already have four men who can easily push each other to the dip below the record.

But that’s not all, for there are still the likes of Bongumsa Mthembu, Rufus Photo, Charles Tjiane, Mike Fokoroni, Johannes Kekana, Mncedisi Mkhize who are all capable of going all the way.

And then there are the dark-horses, men who can pull off surprises.

Nick Bester rates Steve Way, a Comrades debutant, highly. The Brit is a former 50km world champion and is renowned for holding the British 100km record.

Also keep a look out for Latudi Makofane, Hermans Mokgadi, Thabo Nkuna, Renier Grobler, Teboho Sello, Lucas Nonyana and Thabo Mosiea.

In the women’s race, Charne Bosman and Caroline Wostmann will battle it out for honours. But they will not have it all their way against the likes of America’s former world 100km and 50m champion Camille Herron, who will be making her Comrades debut. Her compatriot Sarah Bard finished fourth in her debut last year and should be favourite for a podium finish this time around.

Swiss trail runner Jasmin Ninige may be attempting her first Comrades, but the fact she has won the UltraVasan 90km last year in a time of 6:54 says she cannot be taken lightly.

Colleen de Reuck and Fikile Mbuthuma will be looking for back-to-back golds after winning their first last year.

It promises to be a good Comrades Marathon, one that would be fascinating to watch. But it will be even better as a participant.

The Star

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