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Russian Women, South African Men Dominate Two Oceans Ultra
By Riel Hauman
(c) 2007 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

CAPE TOWN (07-Apr-2007) -- “I feel like a little hare amongst the lions.”

This was the way Hungarian Simona Staicu expressed her feelings at the pre-race media conference the day before the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. Flanking her were three of the favourites: the Nurgalieva twins, Yelena and Olesya, and defending champion Tatyana Zhirkova, all Russians.

Two more Russian “lions” were waiting in the wings, and the next day they took first and second in their first attempt at South Africa’s second biggest ultramarathon: Madina Biktagirova and Liliya Yadzhak.

At 42, Biktagirova, the 1998 European Championships silver medalist in the marathon, became the oldest winner of the race since – in a different era altogether – Janet Bailey won at age 46 in 1978.  The former Belarusian clocked 3:35:11.  Like last year, the women’s race was again the more exciting, with only 51 seconds separating the first four: Biktagirova, Yadzhak, Yelena and Olesya Nurgalieva.

Staicu, the winner on her own first first attempt in 2003, had no answer to the power of the Russians and finished fifth.

In the men’s race the title went to South African Bethuel Netshifhefhe in 3:08:03. He thus broke the Zimbabwean domination and became the first home country athlete to win since Mluleki Nobanda did so in 2003. He was followed by another South African, 1996 Olympic marathon champion Josiah Thugwane, one minute and 43 seconds in arrears.

In windy and fairly warm conditions the men’s race was somewhat slower than last year, when Moses Njodzi won in 3:06:50, while the women’s was faster.

The race got off to the usual blistering start, with Frans Chauke storming away in the predawn darkness. He stayed ahead until the runners reached the sea on the coast of False Bay after about 15 km, but then the main contenders started the chase in earnest. A group of about thirty began to cut into his lead, overhauling the lesser followers one by one until, shortly before the halfway mark, Chauke’s game was up and he was swallowed.

The increase in pace, engineered by Netshifhefhe, Thugwane, Hatiwande Nyamande, Sipho Ngomane and Njodzi, was soon telling. The group was still quite large at halfway, reached in 92:40 (last year Njodzi was leading here in 89:51), but then the first big climb, Chapmans Peak, took its usual toll.

Rising 146 metres from halfway to 34 km, Chapmans Peak eliminated everyone but those who were in the best form. The gaps opened quickly and with deadly effect, and at the top of the climb only Netshifhefhe and Thugwane remained.

Thugwane, who started much too fast last year and dropped out even before “Chappies”, looked a different runner this time, although it was mostly Netshifhefe (who is eleven months younger) who was applying the pressure. The tiny Thugwane, who barely reached his shoulder, clung to him all the way down to sea level in Hout Bay at 40 km and then up the second, even bigger, climb, Constantia Nek.  This huge hill, with the road twisting up and up amongst the trees, has often in the past decided the outcome of the Two Oceans and everyone was waiting for Thugwane to falter, as the powerful Netshifhefhe looked untroubled and in control. But Thugwane has not become Olympic champion by giving in and at the marathon mark, about 3 km from the summit, they were still locked together in 2:19:12 (Njodzi reached it in a remarkable 2:15:33 last year).

Nobanda, whose first and second places in 2003 and 2004 were followed by two DNFs the next two years, and Nyamande, 11th in 2006, were 1:13 behind and seemed to be out of it.

Netshifhefhe and Thugwane had increased their lead by the time they reached the top of the Nek and then finally, on the downhill past the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Thugwane could no longer maintain the pace. Just after 50 km he suffered a stitch and slowed. Sensing victory, Netshifhefhe looked over his shoulder and surged away.

Thugwane recovered quickly, but it was clear that he would not catch the flying leader again. He reached the finish in 3:09:46.

Behind him there was a dramatic change as Nobanda faded out of the picture altogether, eventually finishing 15th. Njodzi, who suffered from a tight hamstring and never looked as comfortable as he did when he won last year, was passed by Claude Moshiywa but said he was happy with a top ten finish.

Also among the gold medalists was previous Comrades winner Sipho Ngomane in seventh, while the last gold medal went to newcomer Neo Molema.

Netshifhefhe’s winning time is the slowest since Nobanda’s 3:09:21 in 2003, but that did not bother him. “I have been training for this race since December and did a lot of speedwork,” he said.  “I think that helped me in the end.”

Netshifhefhe, who finished second in the Port Elizabeth City Marathon in February in 2:14:08 and has been included in the South African marathon team for the IAAF World Championships, said he would use part of the prize money to make additions to his house. He added he would now take a short rest and then start preparing for Osaka.

Nyamande, who in 2006 had missed out on a gold medal by one spot, said he had received “plenty of tips” from 2001 winner Honest Mutsakani. “That was a big help. I think maybe I can win this one day.”

In the women’s race the two Russian novices shattered all pre-race predictions by taking the initiative after the marathon mark. Neither of them has run an ultramarathon before but that did not deter them from taking on the formidable Nurgalieva twins. It is the first time that both were beaten when running together in a South African ultramarathon (Yelena has scored two victories in the Two Oceans and three in the Comrades).

Biktagirova came into the race as the fastest marathoner ever to enter, owning a PB of 2:24:46 from 1997. She won the Istanbul Eurasia Marathon last year in 2:28:21, with Yadzhak second in a PB 2:29:22.

Biktagirova, who was eighth in the Boston Marathon last year (one place and 10 seconds ahead of Olesya Nurgalieva), looked the stronger runner throughout the race and in the end won by only 11 seconds after she had started to edge away from Yadzhak from the 50 km mark, but it was a decisive victory nevertheless.

Her winning time of 3:35:11 is the second fastest ever in the Two Oceans, 4:35 behind the brilliant course record set by Frith van der Merwe in 1989. The first four runners all ran faster than Zhirkova’s winning time of 2006, relegating her to the sixth on the all-time list.  Zhirkova never looked like she was going to repeat her win and finished seventh in 3:49:36 – more than 13 minutes slower than last year.

“I found the wind quite helpful in the second half,” the winner said in a post-race interview. However, the down hills were difficult, she added. But she would come back to South Africa later in the year to run the Comrades.

Biktagirova, who changed nationality from Belarus to Russia in 1992, and Yadzhak both said Van der Merwe’s record can be broken. “It can definitely go,” the winner said. “Even today, if the wind hadn’t been as strong and I’d been more familiar with the course, it would have been close.”

She did smash Maria Bak’s veteran (master) record of 3:49:21 by more than 14 minutes.

Staicu, who last year had said she could break the record, admitted she could never get into her running and was behind the top four from the start. Her 3:40:46 was just more than 3½ minutes slower than her 2006 time, when she was third.

Farwa Mentoor, who stressed that her main aim for the year, as usual, was the Comrades, was the first South African for the second year in a row, crossing the line in ninth in 3:53:10.

In his last Two Oceans as Race Director, Chet Sainsbury (64) again could not achieve a Sainsbury medal, this time missing the 5-hour cut-off by 14:26. Nine-time Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce (51) finished almost 40 minutes later in 5:54:06.

In the accompanying half marathon Kenyan Willy Mwangi beat Enos Matalane by 20 seconds in 63:05, while Namibian Helalia Johannes defended her title successfully in 73:16 – breaking her course record of 73:35 by 19 seconds. Behind her South Africans René Kalmer (73:42) and Zintle Xiniwe (74:52) both set huge PBs.

Former world marathon record holder Tegla Loroupe was sixth in 77:40 and said she had been travelling too much to expect a better result.

Top Results:

Ultramarathon (56 km):
 1. Bethuel Netshifhefhe 3:08:03 R150,000
 2. Josiah Thugwane 3:09:46 75,000
 3. Hatiwande Nyamande (ZIM) 3:11:14 50,000
 4. Claude Moshiywa 3:12:10 25,000
 5. Moses Njodzi (ZIM) 3:12:28 10,000
 6. Mabule Raphotle 3:14:28 9000
 7. Sipho Ngomane 3:15:03 8000
 8. John Mboko 3:15:06 7000 + 5000i
 9. Joseph Maerman 3:15:35 6000
10. Neo Molema 3:16:13 5000 + 4000i
DNF: Marco Mambo (ZIM), Honest Mutsakani (ZIM), Simon Mphulanyane, Fusi Nhlapo, Fanie Matshipa, Graham Malinga
i = incentives for Western Province runners

WOMEN (Same prize money as men) -
 1. Madina Biktagirova (RUS) 3:35:11
 2. Lilia Yadzhak (RUS) 3:35:22
 3. Yelana Nurgalieva (RUS) 3:35:41
 4. Olesya Nurgalieva (RUS) 3:36:02
 5. Simona Staicu (HUN) 3:40:46
 6. Samukeliso Moyo (ZIM) 3:49:07
 7. Tatyana Zhirkova (RUS) 3:49:36
 8. Mamorallo Tjoka (LES) 3:53:02
 9. Farwa Mentoor 3:53:10
10. Angeline Molaba 3:58:05
DNF: Louisa Leballo
i = incentives for Western Province runners

 1. Willy Mwangi (KEN) 63:05 R20,000
 2. Enos Matalane 63:25 10,000
 3. Lebenya Nkoka (LES) 63:44 6000
 4. Elijah Mbogo (KEN) 63:50 4000
 5. Kanie Simons 64:40 3000
 6. Charles Wanjohi (KEN) 64:48 2000
 7. Lusapho April  65:01 1000
 8. Luwis Masunda (ZIM) 65:19 750
 9. Motone Motsamai 65:26 500
10. Tsotang Maine (LES) 65:31 250

WOMEN (Same prize money as men) -
 1. Helalia Lukeiko Johannes (NAM) 73:16 CR*
 2. René Kalmer 73:42
 3. Zintle Xiniwe 74:52
 4. Thabita Tsatsa (ZIM) 75:17
 5. Tegla Loroupe (KEN) 77:40
 6. Gloria Baeba 78:15
 7. Johanna van Schalkwyk 78:40
 8. Moleboheng Mafata 78:49
 9. Sharon Tavenga (ZIM) 79:34
10. Giovanna Mandy (USA) 80:10
*Course record; previous: Johannes 73:35, 2006

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