Japan's Nao Kazami wins Lake Saroma 100km in June 2018. Photo: @runwithcuan on twitter

JOHANNESBURG – Nao Kazami was either being modest or playing mind games. According to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA), the Japanese running superstar will simply be happy with recouping the money he would have spent on coming to South Africa.

“Kazami is hoping to finish in sixth position as the prize money will cover his travel costs,” a statement from the CMA said yesterday.

In an updated list of contenders for the men’s title, the CMA added Kazami and Zimbabwean Hatiwande Nyamande, whom they had inconceivably left out in the initial list.

It was the Japanese’s name, however, that stood out.

To the uninitiated, Kazami is the world 100km record holder with a very fast time of 6hr 09min 14sec. He ran the time June last year in the Lake Saroma 100km Ultra Marathon. His run beat the 6:13:33 set by his compatriot Takahiro Sunada on the same course 21 years ago.

That he is coming to run the Ultimate Human Race is thanks to him having met the likes of champion Bongmusa Mthembu and Thulani Magagula at the IAU 100km World Championships in Croatia last year.

Along with his countrymen, Hadeaki Yamauchi, Takehiko Gyoba and Koji Hayasaka, Kazami won the team prize and that alone should suggest he is probably better than the sixth-spot finish he is apparently targeting. Add to that him being the world record holder in the 100km, and there is good reason to foresee him ending the seven-year long South African dominance of the race.

Not that Mthembu will be too worried about Kazami. For while the Asians ruled supreme at the worlds in Croatia, the road machine from Bulwer in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands beat Kazami last year.

Mthembu completed the 10-lap 100km race in third place behind the first two aforementioned Japanese and Kazami came behind in sixth place.

No doubt some form of relationship was developed between the two men to the extent that Kazami saw it fit to come and try out the much talked about Comrades Marathon.

Will he show his record breaking prowess in the up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg or will he be in SA on a fact-finding mission for future races? The fact that he has told the CMA he just wants to make up for his travel costs would suggest he is on a recce trip.

Mthembu though will be wary of the Japanese contingent who denied him the world title.

The back-to-back Comrades winner will also keep a close watch on Zimbabwean Nyamande who boasts third and second-place finishes in the previous down runs respectively.

The 40-year-old is clearly an up run specialist as evidenced by those great runs in 2015 and 2017, and will definitely be a threat to the South Africans who will be keen to ensure the title remains on home soil.

But surely Kazami is this year’s star attraction. His 100km record notwithstanding, the 36-year-old boasts an impressive 2:17 marathon personal best. His presence alone suggests this year’s men’s race will be run at a pretty fast pace.

@Tshiliboy

 

The Star

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter