MTHEMBU MAKES MAGIC

Local is lekker as South African claims sec­ond Com­rades crown, while Amer­i­can Her­ron cruises to the women’s title

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - DARRYN POL­LOCK

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.

PIC­TURES: BACK­PAGEPIX

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.

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