JOHANNESBURG – Lindsey Parry, the Comrades Marathon Association’s official coach, believes that Bongmusa Mthembu and Gerda Steyn are going to achieve the South African ultra marathon double that is generally deemed near impossible.
Mthembu and Steyn won the Two Oceans Marathon in April and Parry says the duo will reign victorious at next month’s Comrades Marathon too.
“Gerda is doing very well. She is my favourite to win the race this year. She ran (a) good race in Cape Town and I think she will win the Comrades,” Parry said “I also believe Bongmusa will be the first one to get into Pietermaritzburg”
Parry does acknowledge that history seems to suggest his prediction will be way off the mark.
“Of course when you look at what has happened in the past, the chances of the two scoring a double are slim. But people must remember that Bongmusa won (the) Comrades last year and went on to compete at the World 100km Championships and did very well. So I do not think he will fail to win the Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year. If there is anyone who can do what Derek Preiss did all those years ago, it is Bongmusa,” he said.
Preiss won the Two Oceans and Comrades double on successive years in 1974 and 1975. And while there have been a few runners who have won both famous ultras, no other male athlete has done it in the same year.
Steyn, should she improve on her second place finish from last year’s down run, would emulated the revered Frith van Der Merwe who completed the rare double 30 years ago.
While he favours the two for June 9 glory, Parry is experienced enough to know that nothing can be taken for granted. He knows that the likes of Gift Kelehe and last year’s female champion Ann Ashworth will be out for glory too.
“We also have Gift Kelehe from Entsika, a former champion who likes the up run. Nedbank’s Hatiwande Nyamande fromm Zimbabwe has proven to be strong on the up run and he might also win it. Edward Mothibi had an excellent derby last year. We cannot rule him out so too Gordon Lesetedi finished sixth,” Parry said.
“There is also Nkosinathi Duma who ran well in the 100km World Championships last year and got 10th place on the down run. Steve Way from United Kingdom might come back stronger this year after he finished third last year.
Whereas he foresees the possibility of victory by an overseas athlete in the men’s race, Parry is confident the women’s title will not leave SA shores.
“In the women’s category I do not see the title going outside South Africa. Besides Gerda, Ashworth will be out to win back-to-back titles. Her training has gone well without any injuries. Charne Bosman will also be pushing for a podium finish. I am not sure if Tanith Maxwell has fully recovered from her injury but if she has, I expect her to be out there with the intention of bettering her fourth-place finish from last year,” Parry said.
“Dominika Stelmach of Poland is very strong, but she will face a tough challenge from local ladies. Camille Herron will be out defend her up-run title. I heard that all has gone well for her. She is ready to defend, but it will not be easy in the presence of locals. We have a very good crop of women that are hard to beat here at home.”
Parry is a qualified coach and has led SA teams at the London and Rio Olympics, as well as the Commonwealth Games.