The Mercury

Records look set to tumble at this year’s Comrades

- Matshelane Mamabolo

I CAN’T help but feel that I am going to be part of a big event, a momentous occasion that is likely to live on long in memory.

Of course the Comrades Marathon is a big deal. It is, after all, regarded as one of, if not the, toughest ultra races in the world.

And come June 4, I am going to be among the 20 000 runners lining up at the start at the Durban City Hall, hoping and praying that our legs take us all the way to Pietermari­tzburg’s Scottsvill­e Race Course within the allotted 12 hours.

But this is not going to be any other Comrades. Like last year’s down run, indication­s are that the long-standing course record held by Leonid Shvetsov is going to fall. Ditto for the 21-year-old female mark set by Elena Nurgalieva.

“This year’s up-run will certainly be something to watch. Both Shvetsov’s 2008 uprun best time of 5:24:49 in the men’s race and Nurgalieva’s 2006 best time of 6:09:24 in the women’s race could well be under threat,” said race director Rowyn James. He was not exaggerati­ng. The line-up for the 87km race is teeming with talented men and women capable of sending those two records tumbling.

The Comrades Marathon Associatio­n has released a list of who they believe are the top contenders for the title and looking at those men and women, it is actually sad that ultra running is not a sport that is celebrated in this country.

We are world champions at the 100km for Pete’s sake, but even that fact is lost on many except the road-running fanatics.

South Africa has, after all, only three sports – soccer, rugby and cricket. So lowly are the rest of the other sports regarded.

But get closer to the other sports, ultra marathons in this regard, and you will get to appreciate the talent our country is blessed with.

What David Gatebe did last year when he smashed Shvetsov’s record to smithereen­s was absolutely incredible.

The year before Gatebe had finished second on the up run, with Gift Kelehe triumphant. They were both in the South African team that conquered the world in Spain for the 100km title and are understand­ably both among the favourites for next month’s event. And having had the privilege of visiting their camp, I can safely suggest to any punter to put their money on either.

And then there’s my cousin, Ludwick Mamabolo. A consistent performer in the ultras, Modibe can always be relied upon to produce a super performanc­e at the ultimate human race.

Add his teammate and 2013 champion, Claude Moshiywa, to the mix and you already have four men who can easily push each other to the dip below the record. But that’s not all for there are still the likes of Bongumsa Mthembu, Rufus Photo, Charles Tjiane, Mike Fokoroni, Johannes Kekana, Mncedisi Mkhize who are all capable of going all the way. And then there are the dark-horses, men who can pull off surprises. Nick Bester rates Steve Way, a Comrades debutant, highly. The Brit is a former 50km world champion and is renowned for having won the Stockhom 100km race as a novice. In the women’s race, Charne Bosman and Caroline Wostmann will battle it out for honours. But they will not have it all their way against the likes of America’s former world 100km and 50m champion Camille Herron, who will be making her Comrades debut. Her compatriot Sarah Bard finished fourth in her debut last year.

Swiss trail runner Jasmin Ninige may be attempting her first Comrades, but the fact she has won the UltraVasan 90km last year in a time of 6:54 says she cannot be taken lightly.

Colleen de Reuck and Fikile Mbuthuma will be looking for back-to-back golds after winning their first last year.

It promises to be a good Comrades Marathon, one that would be fascinatin­g to watch. But better as a participan­t.

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