‘It can be done, we simply need to want to do it’
Much speculation as to what more the 2019 Comrades might offer was answered at Thursday's official and simultaneous announcements to the media and the Comrades Marathon family across the globe.
Many will have been surprised at the extent of the changes.
Those who believe Comrades is far too dominant a fixture in SA road running will have their belief strengthened in the wake of the enterprising changes the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) have introduced. I must admit to straddling both camps of thought, wanting to see SA again become an international force in road running over standard distances, while also sharing the love affair so many of us enjoy with the KZN-based epic.
Comrades simply keeps re-inventing itself. The 94th Comrades – actually started in 1921 – has opened the road from Durban to Pietermaritzburg to 25,000 runners in 2019.
Two new medals have been introduced and few saw that one coming, though there has been pressure to name a medal after a woman. The new Isavel Roche-Kelly medal is named after the 1980/81 double winner who was the first women to break the silver medal time of 7:18 and followed that up with 6:44 a year later.
A young, exciting and talented runner, she tragically died in a cycling accident three years later.
The half gold, half silver medal will be awarded to women who finish from 11th position and to all who break the 7:30 barrier. That means no women will again win a silver medal, though they are unlikely to be aggrieved by that.
The second new medal is so very special given that for decades, neither women in general nor any black folk were allowed to participate in Comrades.
Most white males have sadly shown themselves down the years, as being a peculiar lot and will forever be judged in history for harbouring prejudice.
And yet road running in SA has generally been a ground breaker.
In 1935 Robert Mtshali was the first black man to unofficially complete the Comrades in a time of 9:30.
So it’s that the Comrades now offers a medal, named after his pioneering spirit, for all who complete the route in 9-10 hours. How special is that.
Other changes include a faster qualifying time of 4:50, 10 minutes quicker than in recent times. There has been some negative reaction to this, but seriously anybody can do it if they simply train effectively.
An inflated prize purse to R4.3m is what will seriously worry running puritans, while the winners cheques at R500,000 will lure marathon and even half marathon exponents. That, however, cannot be laid at the door of the CMA who are doing what is best for their historical race.
The controlling body of the sport in South Africa needs to ensure that similar rewards are on offer for all internationally recognised distances, in particular the 10, 21,1 and 42,2kms.
It can be done, we simply need to want to do it.