Durban - Gerda Steyn’s first Comrades Marathon win will go down in history as she became the first woman to break through the six-hour barrier in the “up” run with a record time of five hours, 58 minutes, 53 seconds (5:58.53).
She is also the first woman since Frith van der Merwe in 1989 to win the Comrades and the Two Oceans titles - a feat she did not intend accomplishing, she said yesterday at the Scottsville Racecourse in Pietermaritzburg.
Steyn slashed more than 10 minutes off Russian athlete Elena Nurgalieva’s “up” run record of 6:09:23 that was set in 2006.
“I can’t believe that I won. I can’t even feel my legs. This year I just came for a win, but breaking the record was a bonus,” Steyn said.
Steyn said it was an “incredible race” and she felt good and fit throughout.
Russian athlete Alexandra Morozova finished second nearly 20 minutes behind Steyn with a time of 6:17:40.
For the men’s title, Edward Mothibi won his maiden Comrades Marathon title in only his second year of lining up for the iconic race, with a time of five hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds (5:31.33).
“I am so happy. I honestly never thought I would win the Comrades Marathon. I just wanted to make sure I got another gold medal this year,” Mothibi said at a press briefing held a few hours after the top 10 crossed the finish line.
The 34-year-old Mothibi spoiled Bongmusa Mthembu’s attempt at a fourth consecutive title.
Emotional scenes of camaraderie - encompassing the spirit of the Comrades - played out as the sun set over Pietermaritzburg, signalling the 12-hour cut-off time.
The vibrancy intensified minutes before the close of the race, as Queen’s We Will Rock You blasted from the speakers and spectators cheered-on the runners who streamed into Scottsville Racecourse.
While many cried as they crossed the finish line, it was a bitter-sweet moment for Neo Mogohloane, as she missed the cut-off by seconds.
“I tried to jump in but it didn’t work. But I am happy and proud of myself as I ran with a hip injury and after a two-year break. I will be back though and with more training, I guess I’ll make it next time,” she said.
The South African government congratulated Mothibi and Steyn for winning the men’s and women’s races: “Minister of Sport Nathi Mthethwa congratulates both Edward Mothibi and Gerda Steyn for respectively winning the 2019 Comrades Marathon,” the government said in a statement.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube also congratulated the 20000-odd runners for their participation in the 94th edition of the race.
She said the ultra-marathon continued to promote KZN as a leisure and events destination.
“The Comrades Marathon is also a very important event for the province in terms of economic impact and tourism at large.
“We have seen thousands of tourists as well, basking in the glorious weather of our province as a result of the marathon.
“We learnt also from the Comrades Marathon Association that this year’s instalment is expected to boost the economy of KZN by R700million.
“That cash injection also hopefully trickles down to communities along the route of the race,” said Dube-Ncube.
Meanwhile, the heroics of one-legged runner Xolani Luvuno, who captured the hearts and minds of many when he completed last year’s race on crutches, could not be reproduced this year.
While Luvuno was seen out on the route yesterday after he started the race on Saturday night, he was not qualified to race.
Comrades Marathon chairperson Cheryl Winn said last night that Luvuno was one of 3000 people who registered to run the marathon but did not qualify.
“Xolani did not qualify for the race and could not compete as an official marathon runner,” Winn said.
Luvuno’s mentor, Hein Venter, said that Luvuno still attempted to run the marathon on his own, but it was tough.
“I couldn’t run with Xolani because I was diagnosed with a serious illness on Friday. Xolani had lots of hassles at the start of the race and at one point when his support vehicles abandoned him, he was forced to walk on the pavement.
“About five kilometres from the finish, Xolani was told that he wouldn’t make it in time so he had to stop walking and did not finish the race,” Venter said.