By Riël Hauman
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
March 27, 2013
Only one thing seems (fairly) certain about Saturday’s 44th running of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town: the weather cannot be worse than last year, when torrential rain lashed the Cape Peninsula, making running the 56 km ultramarathon a nightmare and turning the sports fields at the finish into a more-than-ankle-deep quagmire of mud.
The accompanying half-marathon will be run for the 16th time. The biggest half-marathon in South Africa, it broke all entry records this year, with more than 16,000 runners expected to start. Its “big brother” also has the largest field in its 44-year history, with more than 10,000 athletes entered.
All four champions will be back to defend their titles: Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM) and Elena Nurgalieva (RUS) in the ultramarathon, and Xolisa Tyali and René Kalmer in the half-marathon.
For the second time in the history of the event the top-ten men and women in both races will be tested for prohibited substances by the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS). In previous years random testing of the top ten was done. After last year’s ultramarathon, eighth-placed Lucas Nonyana returned a positive test and received a one-month suspension. This resulted in Odwa Tunyiswa, Kimutai Lezan (KEN) and Moeketsi Mosuhli (LES) each moving up one position and the latter receiving the tenth gold medal.
An interesting entrant in the ultramarathon is Ludwick Mamabolo. He was first across the line in last year’s Comrades ultramarathon, but then tested positive for methylhexaneamine and was suspended. Almost a year later his case is still pending, but Fahmy Galant, Doping Control Manager of SAIDS, said that Mamabolo’s suspension has been “provisionally lifted [with] conditions attached to it pending the finalization of the hearing”. It could not be ascertained what these conditions are, but at the beginning of the month Mamabolo finished third in the Springs Striders 32 km.
Apart from Muzhingi, eight of the 2012 gold medalists have entered again. The only one missing is Lezan.
The big question on everyone’s lips is: How will Muzhingi approach this year’s Two Oceans? After having won the Comrades three years in a row (and finishing fourth, fourth and fifth in the Two Oceans), he produced a storming run (no pun intended) over the last few kilometres in the 2012 Two Oceans to score a solid victory over Henry Moyo (MAW) in a personal best of 3:08:08, the tenth fastest winning time ever.
This victory made him the first male runner since Derek Preiss in 1975 to hold the Two Oceans and Comrades titles together (although Preiss scored his wins in the same year).
Eight weeks later Muzhingi’s aim to emulate Preiss came to naught when he could do no better than sixth in the Comrades. Most experts agreed that the two ultras were too close together for Muzhingi to have recovered sufficiently.
This year there is an extra week between the two races and that could change the way athletes like Muzhingi and others who have their sights on the Comrades approach this weekend’s race. Moyo, who has not been able to finish the Comrades in his two tries, ran his best Two Oceans in 2012 and has been in the top ten four times. He led over the last big climb, Constantia Nek, last year, but could not stay in front when Muzhingi started his charge wth 4 km to go.
There will again be a strong Lesotho contingent, among them two of the gold medalists of 2012, Tsotang Maine (7th) and Mosuhli, as well as Mabuthile Lebopo, the winner in 2010, Warinyane Lebopo, Lebenya Nkoka, Sekeke Lesolo, Teboho Sello, Motlokoa Nkhabutlane, who was second in 2011 but failed to finish last year, and Mpesela Ntlotsoeu, who had a disastrous race in 2012.
SA marathon record holder Gert Thys led the South Africans in 2012 with his fourth place, course record of 3:09:42 for veterans (masters) and world best for veterans at 50 km of 2:48:39. In typical Thys fashion he was then brimming with confidence for the Comrades, but could not finish the longer race. Thys has not been racing as much this year as he did before last year’s Two Oceans and also failed to finish the SA Marathon in February.
After the Two Oceans last year, Thys said he would have won were it not for his blood sugar level falling too low in the latter stages of the race (he has had insulin difficulties throughout his career). He is still an exceptional runner – although tending to be inconsistent – and if he can solve the problem of maintaining his sugar level, there is little reason why he cannot finish in the top three.
Other South Africans who can mount a challenge are Bongmusa Mthembu, who finished a mere 34 seconds behind Thys in 2012, Mthandazo Qhina (6th), Nonyana, Tunyiswa (8th) and – of course – Mamabolo, who was 23rd last year. There is also Vusi Malobola, who won the last gold medal in 2011 and was 13th last year. He finished third in the City to City 50 km in 2012 and has not yet reached his potential in the Two Oceans.
RUSSIA’S NURGALIEVA TWINS RETURN
In the women’s race Russia’s Nurgalieva twins are back together again after Elena had to run without the company of Olesya last year (and scored her fourth victory). She then went on to win the Comrades for the third time in a row. Their amazing streak of dominant performances in South Africa’s two premier ultras now reads as follows: seven first and seven second places in the Two Oceans, and nine wins and seven second places in the Comrades. They have tallied 31 places in the top three in both races since 2003 and have been outside the top three on only two occasions.
Can anyone beat them?
There are only two runners in the field who can match their career-best marathon times: Natalia Volgina (RUS) and Thabita Tsatsa (ZIM). The twins ran their PBs respectively nine and five years ago and have not come close to this level again. Tsatsa, now 40, recorded hers in 2008 and Volgina (the fastest marathon runner of the four) hers in 2006.
Volgina won the Two Oceans in 2002 and returned last year after an absence of nine years to finish second. Tsatsa has never run the Cape Town ultra, but won the Loskop 50 km and Township to Township Marathon last year. She clocked a solid 1:22:50 in a half-marathon at altitude earlier this year.
The Nurgalievas’ record makes them the favourites, but they have been shown to be vulnerable in the past when put under pressure for an extended period of time, and this seems to be the only way to beat them.
Tsatsa, her country’s marathon record holder with 2:29:20, certainly has the credentials to challenge the twins, and so does Volgina, who is four years younger than the Zimbabwean.
Another debutante could lead the South Africans. Charné Bosman has run only one ultramarathon before, when she finished second in the City to City 50 km last year, but is the fastest South African marathoner in the field and one of only three South Africans who have won the SA Marathon three times. She has kept a rather low profile in the run-up to the race, but did win the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon earlier in the year (in 2:48:21 on a course that was 600-700m too long), as well as the Woodlands Dairy 15 km, and set a personal best of 1:14:59 in the McCarthy Toyota Half-Marathon. Despite her lack of experience, she could finish in the top five.
Apart from Elena Nurgalieva and Volgina, six of the top ten in 2012 are returning: Mamorallo Tjoka (LES, 4th), Samukeliso Moyo (ZIM, 5th), Lizih Chokore (ZIM, 7th), and the three South Africans Ntombesintu Mfunzi (8th), Tshifhiwa Mundalamo (9th) and Paulina Njeya (10th).
Another local runner could break into the top ten and even finish as the second South African. Julanie Basson was in the unenviable position of eleventh last year and then took the final gold medal in the Comrades. This year she has been second in the Johnson Crane Marathon and sixth in the Pick ‘n Pay race won by Bosman. Last year she was seventh in the SA Marathon and won two other marathons.
HALF-MARATHON WILL ALSO BE COMPETITIVE
In last year’s half marathon Tyali scored a narrow win over Joel Mmonne, who will again compete, as will the third placer, Lucky Mohale. Tyali, who, apart from the Two Oceans, also won the Gun Run and Pretoria half marathons in 2012, will have to contend with 2011 winner Lusapho April, who also took the SA Marathon that year and started off this year with 44:30 for 15 km, Elroy Gelant, South Africa’s 10 km and cross country champion who finished 20th in this past weekend’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships, Lungisa Mdedelwa, Gladwin Mzazi and track star Juan van Deventer.
Defending champion Kalmer has been struggling with an injury in the last few months and in the early part of 2013 uncharacteristically lost a number of races, although she did win the Springs Striders 32 km in 1:58:48, the third fastest ever by a South African. This past weekend she won a 15 km race in Pretoria in 54:02. She was the top SA finisher in the London Olympic Marathon.
On the other hand, Irvette van Zyl (second last year) has been in good form and won the first twelve of her races in 2013. Strangely, she ran the Lisbon EDP Half-Marathon this past weekend in 1:14:25, the fastest by a South African woman this year – something which will certainly not do her chances on the tough Two Oceans course any good.
The SA duo’s main rival will be Zimbabwean Rutendo Nyahora, who beat them both the previous weekend in the first race in the Spar Grand Prix Series. Nyahora was third last year.
Tanith Maxwell, the third of South Africa’s Olympic marathoners who last ran the Two Oceans in 2010, is also in the field, as are the 2012 fourth and fifth finishers, Zintle Xiniwe and Christine Kalmer.
The male and female winners in the ultramarathon will each receive R250,000 (USD 26,750), while those in the half-marathon will earn R25,000 (USD 2675). An amount of R100,000 (USD 10,700) is on offer for a course record in the ultra (both men and women), while R10,000 (USD 1070) will be paid for a new course record in the shorter race.
A total of 1821 runners in the two races (6.5% of the field) are from outside South Africa. An interesting statistic is that 72% of the field in the ultramarathon are men, while in the half-marathon the split is 50-50 between the sexes.