Comrades Marathon star Gerda Steyn: ‘I am in the shape that I wanted to be’

Defending champion Gerda Steyn will look to go even quicker and set a new up run record in the Comrades Marathon tomorrow. Photo: PHANDO JIKELO Independent Newspapers

Defending champion Gerda Steyn will look to go even quicker and set a new up run record in the Comrades Marathon tomorrow. Photo: PHANDO JIKELO Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 8, 2024


GERDA Steyn’s domination of the South African ultra road-running scene has received a nod of approval from an unlikely source – the woman who is seen as a potential challenger to her reign.

On the eve of the 97th running of tomorrow’s Comrades Marathon that Steyn is roundly expected to win, Adele Broodryk is one of those regarded as capable of pulling the rug from underneath the smiling assassin’s very fast legs.

A runner-up in 5:56.26 to Steyn (5:44.54, a down run record) in last year’s down run race, Broodryk is making her up run debut tomorrow, and – contrary to what many think – she sees Steyn’s presence as a blessing instead of a curse.

“I don’t see it as running under Gerda’s shadows. She is an amazing athlete who goes from strength to strength every year. We don’t see it as a negative point like ‘Ag, Gerda is going to win again’,” Broodryk said yesterday.

“No, we are encouraged by her. If it was not for Gerda, I would not have broken the six-hour barrier (she ran 5:56.26 last year).

“We are all working towards the bar that she has set, and we are encouraged by her. She is only a human being. She has 10 fingers and 10 toes.”

There can be no denying that Steyn – whose 2019 up run record stands at 5:58.53 – runs almost un-humanlike, though, the Adidas-sponsored Phantane Athletics Club runner breaking records with such consummate ease and winning races so easily that organisers might just as well have a separate contest for the rest of the athletes.

She is a modest person from Bothaville in the Free State, though, and does not look down on her adversaries.

At the elite runners’ pre-race media conference yesterday, Steyn – who is likely to set yet another best up run time tomorrow, having broken Frith van der Merwe’s long-standing mark from 1989 five years ago, when the race last went from Durban to Pietermaritzburg – talked up her opponents.

“This year has the strongest female field that we have ever seen. It is a very deep field of women, and experienced newcomers,” she said.

“It is very exciting to be with this amazing line-up of women on my right, and many others that are not here on the table.”

She described herself as being excited for the return of the up run. “It is the first one in five years, and I’d love to see myself improving on what I’ve done in the past,” Steyn said.

“Training has been standard, and I am in the shape that I wanted to be in when I set my goals for the year.”

Although she did not have to say it, given that her performances spoke for her, Steyn said that she had built up from the athlete she was in 2019.

“I am excited to put myself to the test, and see if I can bring out what I have trained for.”

The female top-10 contenders were in agreement that the race is going to be a tricky one, given that they’ve not done the up run in a long time.

Even those who have run it before must be feeling they will be like novices on the challenging route up from the Durban City Hall to the Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg.

“It is my first run, so I am an underdog. I’ve got something to prove,” said Broodryk, who will no doubt strive to get out of what many believe is ‘Gerda’s shadow’.

“But what makes Sunday super special is that the last run was five years ago. A lot of athletes will feel like novices again, because they can’t remember what happened in 2019.”