CAPE TOWN – The promise of the world’s best in action next year and a dramatic penalty decision which cost a high-profile athlete second position were the talking points following the ninth Otter African Trail Run over 42km between Storms River and Nature’s Valley over the weekend.
Two Western Cape champions contributed to a winning sporting weekend for Cape Town fans, with Stellenbosch trail athlete Christiaan Greyling joining his wife Landie with an “Otter” title – she won in 2015 – while it was a lucky number four for Meg Mackenzie, who took the title at her fourth attempt ahead of last year’s winner, Robyn Kime.
With discussions well under way to stage the final of a new world trail marathon series at the Otter in 2018, the future of the race appears healthy.
The series could bring the world’s top male and female trail athletes, and possibly live television coverage, to the Southern Cape next October.
“This would be a dream come true,” expressed race director Mark Collins.
“Salomon’s close involvement with our race is the key factor, but we are still looking for a title sponsor to clinch the event.”
Top South African athlete Kane Reilly’s less than stellar race on Saturday took a turn for the worse, when the organisers imposed a 10-minute penalty on him for not having his windbreaker at the post-race kit check – a decision which relegated him to third position behind exciting new talent Robbie Rorich.
Reilly has raced successfully with the world’s best in Europe this year and went into Saturday’s race as strong favourite.
Running courageously and setting a pace to take him under the magical four-hour barrier, Reilly had opened an eight-minute lead through halfway, before his body shut down in the final quarter to allow Greyling through to take the win in 4 hr 13 min 15 sec (4:13.15) – the fastest time ever by a South African athlete at the Otter.
Twenty-two-year-old UCT student Rorich surprised many with a superb third position, just two minutes behind Reilly, which was later upgraded to second.
“I completely accept the decision by the organisers,” Reilly said. “I’m bummed about it only because I lost my favourite wind-breaker!
“I think it might have been lost during the Bloukrans crossing, where I was hit by several waves.
“The fact that the rules apply to everyone is a reflection of the high status of the race. I would not want it any other way.
“I know that this was my first Otter where the outcome fell short of my expectations and I cannot explain that.
“But the penalty was certainly not the reason! I’m looking forward to taking a rest for some months now before the new season.”
Both Greyling and Mackenzie have paid their dues at the “Otter” in past years, having to be content with minor podium places at best, before finally earning their place amongst international racing royalty in South Africa’s premium marathon-distance trail race.
“It’s definitely the highlight of my career,” Greyling reflected. “I quit my job in May and have become a full time runner. It really has paid dividends.
“My preparation for the Otter was way better than anything before, and I came to win this time.
“I knew I would not win if Kane maintained his early pace throughout – he is just too fast – but fortunately for me, he ran into problems and I caught him at Andre Hut, 8km from home. I was never going to give it away at that stage and just went for it.”
Another favoured athlete, Thabang Madiba, fell badly in the first half while running with Greyling, cutting his knee and injuring his groin.
The Johannesburg athlete was left wondering what might have been, bravely limping to the finish in six hours.
With Landie Greyling ruled out this year due to injury, the women’s race was billed to be a contest between Mackenzie and Owen. And so it proved to be after potential contenders and debutants, KZN’s Carla van Huysteen and Norwegian Shanga Baldendran, suffered misfortune along the way.
Owen sped into an immediate lead, opening further along the technical section up to Ngubu Hut. But Mackenzie’s strength on the climbs told and she drew level on the steepest ascent 6km into the race.
The Salomon teammates ran together for several kilometres before Mackenzie opened a gap shortly before half way to win by eight minutes from Owen in 5:01:08 – the third fastest time on the Classic route.
“I never felt I had shaken off Robyn till after halfway at Oakhurst,” Mackenzie admitted after crossing the line in 5:01:08.
“The second half was really hard, and I was cramping after the Bloukrans crossing. I had been aiming to run sub-five hours, but the cramping put it just out of my reach.”
Otter African Trail Run Results
Men: 1 Christiaan Greyling 4:13:15; 2 Kane Reilly 4:25:00; 3 Robbie Rorich 427:00; 4 Pedro Calderon 4:37:57; 5 Mvuyisi Gcogco 4:40:54; 6 Dillon McEvoy 4:53:18; 7 Rory Scheffer 5:01:23; 8 Melikhaya Msizi 5:08:25; 8 James Montgomery 5:16:56; 10 Leo Sorenson 5:19:15
Veterans: Richard Thomason 5:24:14; 2 Kevin Spratley 5:41:41; 3 Andreas Scharbeck 5:44:04
Masters: 1 Paul van Niekerk 5:58:46; 2 Mark Winte 6:03:42; 3 Nico Schoeman 6:11:53
Women: 1 Meg Mackenzie 5:01:08; 2 Robin Owen 5:09:12; 3 Carla van Huysteen 5:34:44; 4 Karine Bezuidenhout 5:50:28; 5 Shanga Balendran 6:04:37; 6 Briggie Duk 6:26:09; 7 Ishen Stopforth 6:34:15; 8 Sue Chapman 6:51:03; 9 Katherine Schambeck 6:52:48; 10 Julia Penn 6:58:12
Veterans: 1 Stopforth; 2 Chapman; 3 Schambeck
Masters: 1 Charlotte Noble 7:44:30