MTHEMBU MAKES MAGIC
Local is lekker as South African claims second Comrades crown, while American Herron cruises to the women’s title
THE COMRADES has long been a race of foreign dominance, but that monopoly has well and truly been broken as KwaZulu-Natal’s own Bongmusa Mthembu claimed his second title of the ultra marathon in a time of 5:35:34 yesterday.
Mtembu, a local of the host province, who has spent many years training in his hometown of rural Bulwer, took on the challenging hill climb of the 86.73km ‘up run’ from Durban to Pietermaritzburg with ease, hoping his run would inspire.
“I did this for the youngsters out there, those children in the rural areas, I want to be a role model to them,” Mthembu said openly.
Indeed, as the towel was wrapped around his shoulders on the finish line, his first born son, Sisanda, was scooped up into his arms in a proud and loving embrace.
Mtembu also joins a special group of runners who have won the race both going down to Durban, and up to Pietermaritzburg, and spoke proudly of his humble upbringing in the townships of the rural Midlands.
“There was some tough competition, and I respect all those guys, but I had my plan and that was my focus,” a sombre Mthembu said after the race.
Asked about the accolades, as well as the money, that comes with winning such a prestigious race, Mthembu was straightforward in his reasoning for striving to succeed.
“For me it is about the love of sport,” Mtembu added. “The money is not important, for me it comes in at about fourth or fifth.
“There is so much potential in the rural areas, I want to know why we in South Africa are not doing more to unearth that talent.”
The 34-year-old runner has been in some hot form leading up to this race, taking silver in the 100km World Champions in Spain, breaking Bruce Fordyce’s 27 year old South African record, and again bringing some national pride to long distance running.
Mtembu made it six South African men’s champions, stretching back to 2012, including his own 2014 ‘down run’ win which was in a time of 5:28:29. The Arthur Ford runner, as a former winner, was of course one of the favourites for the title, but mostly flew under the radar through the build up to the 2017 edition.
The men’s race was chock full of intense competition with all four of the most recent race winners, Ludwick Mamabolo, Claude Moshiywa, defending ‘up run’ champion Gift Kelehe and record breaking ‘down run’ winner, David Gatebe all looking to add a second winner’s medal to their haul.
Some of those familiar names rounded off the top 10, such as Kelehe, who finished in third 6:14 after Mtembu. Mamabolo came in fourth with another KZN runner in Charles Tjiane taking fifth. Second spot, 3:14 mins after the winner, was Hatiwande Nyamande from Zimbabwe.
In the women’s race, defending champion and heavy favourite, Charne Bosman was unable to maintain the South African dominance as she gave up her crown to American Camille Herron, whose unorthodox running style had many pundits scratching their heads.
Herron set a blistering time coming through early on in the race; and with her bandy legs, flailing arms and mop of hair hanging loosely around her shoulders, the American did not paint a picture of a champion.
However, looks were quite deceiving as the novice runner picked up the women’s title in a time of 6:25:35 in her first complete Comrades Marathon. Herron attempted the last ‘up run’ in 2015, but had to pull out due to injury, while last year she again was disappointed, sitting out with illness.
“I came here in 2014 and ended up in the medical tent, and Charne (Bosman) and her family were so helpful to me in that time,” Herron explained. “Last year I also had to sit out with illness so I knew I had unfinished business here.”
Herron was coming off some great form, having won both the 100km and 50km World titles in 2015.
“After winning those World titles, I knew I was born to run,” she added. “I came back to Comrades knowing I had to fight with all my heart in this race, and I did.”
Bosman, whose race plan always involved a slow start, building towards a stronger finished, was pipped by Russian Alexandra Morozova, who came in second, as well as Herron who held on through some tough final kilometres to secure top spot.
A WINNING DASH: South Africa’s Bongmusa Mthembu claimed his second consecutive Comrades victory yesterday in a time of 5:35:34, while American Camille Herron wrestled the women’s title away from the country, claiming her victory in 6:25:35.