JOHANNESBURG – So Caroline Wöstmann is going to miss the Comrades Marathon again. What a pity!
Wöstmann, you see, is a darling of many road-running fans. Her meteoric rise from a mom who started running around the block in order lose baby fat to Two Oceans and Comrades glory in one year (2015) was so inspirational that she quickly became everyone’s darling runner.
And so it was that when she narrowly missed out on defending her Comrades title in 2016 thanks to a freak accident that saw her bumped by the motorbike and subsequent bad cramps, nearly everyone cried with her.
There were some who even felt Charne Bosman was cruel not to help Wöstmann up when she struggled, clearly they forgot the Comrades is a competition for the elite.
Her absence from last year’s event was easily understandable given that she failed to complete the Two Oceans due to injury.
Not so this year though. Not when she had gotten her fans excitedly anticipating to see her take on both Bosman and reigning champion Camille Herron in the Down Run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.
Early in the year Wöstmann spent time in a training camp out in Kenya and her social media posts had many a road-running fan expecting fireworks from her.
Just on Thursday, the Comrades Marathon Association sent out a list of potential top 10 candidates and her name was there.
Sure, she has not raced much this year. But most elites do not race much as they prepare to tackle the famous KwaZulu/Natal ultra. And then she and her club KPGM dropped a bombshell that she won’t be running in a statement that left one with more questions than answers.
“Following discussions with her coach and the club, it was a collective decision to withdraw due to her current fitness levels and consideration of her future running career and aspirations,” the statement read in part.
The inference from that is clearly that Wöstmann is not fully fit. Really?
This, after all, is an athlete who proclaimed her readiness upon her return from the Kenya camp: “Back in SA and ready to start the @ComradesRace experience” she tweeted back in February.
She was out in the mountains on a camp earlier this month and her posts from there got her fans excitedly anticipating to see her out on the road come June 10.
And then, almost out of the blue, she withdraws.
Could it have been a coincidence that the day after her withdrawal the SAIDS came knocking at her door?
“Nothing like a 5am visit from drug free sport the day after I have to pull out of my fav race to rub a bit of salt in the wound,” she tweeted. “Thought I could sleep in for a change. But grateful to these guys for their dedication to keeping my sport clean (thumbs up). #IplayFair #SayNoToDoping.”
The D word!
Nothing like a 5am visit from drug free sport the day after I have to pull out of my fav race to rub a bit of salt into the wound 🙈
Thought I could sleep in for a change 😝
But grateful to these guys for their dedication to keeping my sport clean 👍 #IPlayFair #SayNoToDoping pic.twitter.com/3XzlACxz2v
Will it ever go away, especially in relation to Comrades?
The one time it was really spoken out aloud was when Ludwick Mamabolo won the race back in 2012, his test returning a positive result for a banned substance only for him to win the case on a technicality.
Other than that, it is always hush-hush when the issue of doping is discussed, with insinuations being dropped around but no one brave enough to say it aloud.
Given her coming out from ‘nowhere’ to win Comrades having also won the Two Oceans earlier in the year, there were those who raised their eyebrows at Wöstmann’s success.
No one dared say it publicly, but those who spoke wondered just how she has managed to make such great strides.
Given their country’s notoriety for drug use, the Russians’ Comrades successes have always been doubted.
And so it was with great glee that the country celebrated when David Gatebe smashed Leonid Shvestov’s Down Run record into smithereens back in 2016.
That he, like Wöstmann, literally came out of left field did not really raise any eyebrows - such is South Africa’s love for a rags to riches tale. Yet the discerning road running fan would sit and wonder upon taking a closer look at the rest of Gatebe’s Comrades times in comparison to the 2016 one.
When you’ve had a story like Lance Armstrong’s, you cannot help but be sceptical when it comes to any great sporting feats at elite level.
But then again, as I’ve come to learn from my own running - with God anything is possible. And my prayer is that the likes of Wöstmann and Gatebe and the rest of the elite - role models to many of us - do #PlayFair.