DURBAN – The Comrades has long been a race of foreign dominance, but that monopoly has well and truly been broken as KwaZulu-Natal’s Bongmusa Mthembu claimed his second title of the ultra marathon in a time of 5hr 35min 34sec on Sunday.
Mtembu who has spent many years training in his hometown of Bulwer, took on the challenging hill climb of the 86.73km up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg with ease, hoping his run would inspire.
“I did this for the youngsters out there, those children in the rural areas, I want to be a role model to them,” Mthembu said.
Indeed, as the towel was wrapped around his shoulders on the finish line, his first-born son, Sisanda, was scooped up into his arms.
Mtembu also joins a special group of runners who have won the Comrades both going down to Durban, and up to Pietermaritzburg, and spoke proudly of his humble upbringing in the Midlands.
“There was some tough competition, and I respect all those guys, but I had my plan and that was my focus,” Mthembu said after the race.
Asked about the accolades, as well as the money, that comes with winning such a prestigious race, Mthembu was straightforward in his reasoning for striving to succeed.
“For me it is about the love of sport,” Mtembu added. “The money is not important, for me it comes in at about fourth or fifth.
“There is so much potential in the rural areas, I want to know why we in South Africa are not doing more to unearth that talent.”
The 34-year-old runner had been in outstanding form leading up to the Comrades, taking silver in the 100km World Championships in Spain, breaking Bruce Fordyce’s 27-year-old SA record, and again bringing some national pride to long-distance running.
Mtembu made it six SA men’s Comrades champions, stretching back to 2012, including his own 2014 down-run win which was in a time of 5:28:29. The Arthur Ford runner, as a former winner, was of course one of the favourites for the title, but mostly flew under the radar in the build up to the 2017 edition.
The men’s race was full of competition with all four of the most recent winners, Ludwick Mamabolo, Claude Moshiywa, defending up run champion Gift Kelehe and record-breaking down-run winner, David Gatebe all looking to add a second winner’s medal to their haul.
Some of those familiar names rounded off the top 10, such as Kelehe, who finished in third in 6:14 after Mtembu. Mamabolo came in fourth with another KZN runner in Charles Tjiane taking fifth. In second spot, 3:14 after the winner, was Hatiwande Nyamande from Zimbabwe.
In the women’s race, defending champion and favourite, Charne Bosman was unable to maintain the SA dominance as she gave up her crown to American Camille Herron, whose unorthodox running style had many pundits scratching their heads.
Herron set a blistering time coming through early on in the race. The novice runner picked up the women’s title in a time of 6:25:35 in her first complete Comrades Marathon. Herron attempted the last up run in 2015, but had to pull out due to injury, while last year she again was disappointed, sitting out with illness.
“I came here in 2014 and ended up in the medical tent, and Charne (Bosman) and her family were so helpful to me in that time,” Herron explained.
“Last year I also had to sit out with illness so I knew I had unfinished business here.”
Herron was coming off some great form, having won both the 100km and 50km World titles in 2015.
“After winning those World titles, I knew I was born to run,” she added.
“I came back to Comrades knowing I had to fight with all my heart in this race, and I did.”
Bosman, whose race plan always involved a slow start, building towards a stronger finished, was pipped by Russian Alexandra Morozova, who came in second.