CAPE TOWN – Now that Kenya’s Joseph Chesire has a Two Oceans title under his belt, it would come as little surprise if athletes from Africa’s Great Rift Valley countries start to dominate the race, as they have standard marathons around the world for decades.
When Kenyan John Wachira won Two Oceans in 2009, future Kenyan and Ethiopian dominance of the podium was anticipated.
That did not happen immediately, with athletes from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho continuing to dominate over the past decade. But a moment during Saturday’s race gave a portent of what could be, as a trio of athletes appeared at the front of the field, running with utmost ease after 10km.
Kenyans Chesire, Melly Kennedy and Jesse Gichuhi were soon absorbed back into the large lead pack, but for a short while the Two Oceans took on the appearance which has characterised big city marathons all over the world.
Chesire - the least likely candidate given his marathon inexperience - powered through to a memorable victory, after recording his fastest ever standard marathon time en route, with Kennedy finishing one up on last year in fourth and Gichuhi just missing out on gold in 11th, in the strongest showing yet from Keny
As the 49th edition of the race winds down after another world-class event over the weekend, ultra-marathoning thoughts turn to next year’s event - the 50th Anniversary of the “most beautiful ultra-marathon race in the world”.
The evolution of “The Oceans” has been startling. The international contingent alone from this year’s event was more than one hundred times the entire field in 1970, a motley crew of 26 white males, using the event as simply a training run for the Comrades Marathon.
There were no seconding stations, little media coverage, no finish gantry, no expo, no battle for entries (you could enter on the day), no road closures, no “extra events” such as the half marathon or trail races, no professional organisers and paltry prize money, if any. But there were similarities - tired but euphoric finishers high on endorphins and, apart from the finishing few kilometres, a course very much the same as the one enjoyed by so many this past weekend.
The escalation was rapid and in just six years “multi-national” status had been granted to the event, which in 1976 was open to all races and genders. An entry fee of R5 bought a race T-Shirt, a medal, a supper and a surprise package! Over three hundred started and the legendary Lesotho athlete, Vincent Rakabaele, raced to a 6 second victory over Comrades star, Alan Robb at the finish at Brookside, Claremont.
But what of the future? How can ‘Oceans’ retain what has made it great in the past but build the event into a world-beater, attracting the finest marathoners to enjoy the special package Cape Town has to offer?
While the action up front is only part of that package, it is the elite athletes who ultimately define the event and generate most of the media profile. But here social club runners compete on equal footing with elites and professionals. Split screen imagery in the TV coverage on Saturday showed the colourful masses running slowly through Hout Bay as we watched Chesire racing to victory. All in the same race.
Anniversaries are opportunities to celebrate in some style and many are speculating what next year’s half-ton will deliver. “We are very excited about the possibilities and looking to pull together stakeholders, sponsors, other supporters and especially the City in a bid to do something very special,” outgoing Two Oceans general manager, Carol Vosloo explained. “Splitting the ultra and half marathons into two separate days might enable us to accommodate many more. It will also enable the ultra to start earlier, which the runners want, and the half marathon later. Again, that’s something for the future.”
The race records for top male and female were set thirty years ago. Thompson Magawana and Frith van der Merwe’s times of 3:03:44 and 3:30:36 have never been threatened in this millennium and many feel it will take suitable incentives to attract the world’s top standard marathoners.
R1 million has been up for grabs for the record for several years, but has not attracted the athletes required to improve these remarkable times. R50 million for a world 50km record on the 50th anniversary would undoubtedly have a dramatic impact on the field and establish the Two Oceans Marathon as the world’s premier ultra for the next 50 years!