JOHANNESBURG – “When I crossed the finish line I was very emotional, to win the Comrades is not easy, it took a lot of kilometres of training.”
That was the reaction from Bongmusa Mthembu after he pulled off a stunning back-to-back victory in the Comrades Marathon yesterday, the first man to do so in 30 years.
Mthembu made history last year when he became the first South African to win the race more than once since Bruce Fordyce. Fordyce was coincidentally the last SA man to win back-to-back titles in 1988.
Mthembu raced to victory in a time of 5hr 28min 39sec, winning his third title after victories in 2014 and 2017.
Mthembu said: “It means a lot to me and I am looking forward to seeing what is going to happen after this win. I am lucky because I do it for the love of the sport so I think that is the main driving force.”
Mthembu had to deal with the death of close friend and teammate Siphiwe Ndlela, who died at a training camp in the Drakensberg in March.
He had to cut his training camp in Lesotho short for a memorial service for Ndlela.
Mthembu made his break at Cowies Hill after spending the majority of the race in the lead bunch.
He dropped Edward Mothibi and David Gatebe at the final major climb in the race.
Three-time Two Oceans champion Marko Mambo paid the price for breaking early with the lead group catching him with 26 kilometres to go.
It was a SA one-two, with Joseph Mphuthi following behind Mthembu in a time of 5:35:14.
“I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do it but I think the experience of knowing how to win the Comrades helped,” Mthembu said. “I am happy and excited, but I know it is just for this day and the next day I need to start preparing for next year.”
Ann Ashworth brushed last year’s disappointment aside to claim her maiden Comrades Marathon women’s title yesterday.
Ashworth ran a composed race taking the lead for the first time with 41 kilometres to go, winning with a time of 6:10:04. She withdrew a kilometre into last year’s race after a fall at the start.
It was a one-two finish for SA with pre-race favourite Gerda Steyn entering the Moses Mabhida Stadium in second place in 6:15:34.
Russian athlete and 2017 runner-up Alexandra Morozova finished third in 6:20:21.
“I don’t think there is anybody more surprised about me sitting up here than me to be quite frank,” Ashworth said. “My coach (John Hamlet) had big plans for me and I thought he was smoking really good stuff but I followed the plan and, wow, look what happened.”
The lead changed three times with Russian Nina Zarina making an early break before pre-race favourites Steyn, Ashworth and Charne Bosman overtook her. Steyn held the lead for a brief period, but once Ashworth got her nose in front she opened some daylight.
Two Oceans champion Steyn tussled with Morozova for a major part of the race as they tried to reel in Ashworth.
Capitalising on the downhills Morozova closed in on Ashworth as they entered Pinetown, with Steyn falling behind. Morozova managed to get a slender lead, but Cowies Hill proved to be the equaliser with Ashworth taking control on the relentless climb.