DURBAN – Former New York Marathon champion Willie Mtolo is optimistic that the domination of South Africa’s black male athletes will continue in this year’s Comrades Marathon.
The showdown for this much anticipated, world famous KwaZulu/Natal ultra-marathon will take place on June 10.
This year’s edition is the Down Run and will see the race starting in Pietermaritzburg with the finish now moved to the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
The supremacy of black local athletes has been evident in the past six years since Ludwick Mamabolo ended Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi’s three-year (2009 to 2011) stranglehold on the event.
Claude Moshiywa, Bongmusa Mthembu (twice), Gift Kelehe and David Gatebe have ensured the title of The Ultimate Human Race remains on local shores.
Mtolo is adamant that South African athletes will again emerge victorious in a fortnight’s time.
“My money is on either Bongmusa Mthembu or David Gatebe. You can’t also rule out Gift Kelehe. I have no doubt that Comrades will be won by another South African athlete this year.”
“Between Mthembu and Gatebe, one of them will win Comrades. Mthembu possesses a very impressive record (5.28.34) in the Down Run,” explained Mtolo who finished Comrades runner-up in 1989 and 2002.
As much as Mtolo is oozing confidence that the title will remain in South Africa, he also made it clear that people should banish any thought of the record tumbling.
“The fact that the race will now end at Moses Mabhida instead of Kingsmead Stadium will make a huge difference. It is almost two and a half kilometres extra. Two kilometres is not a short distance, especially at the end of such a long race. And it is a very flat two kilometres.”
“The athletes will not run fast times and I don’t anticipate any record. I don’t see any record getting broken,” Mtolo explained.
Gatebe holds the record for the fastest time in the Down Run (5:18:19) which he set two years ago
Mtolo believes black South Africans could have long dominated Comrades.
“A lack of belief was one of the major problems that prevented our athletes from dominating this race. But once we started winning it, the other runners also developed the belief that they can win it. That’s why we’ve seen our athletes doing well. Apart from the lack of belief, our athletes were running a lot of races ahead of Comrades.”
“The main drive behind that was money but it had a negative effect because fatigue crept in during Comrades. Some of us ran Comrades when age was not permitting,” Mtolo explained.
Mthembu is the defending champion and will be looking to become the first South African athlete to win the title back to back since the country was re-admitted into global sport in 1992.
Bruce Fordyce was the last SA athlete to win it back to back in 1988.