There is great optimism that yet another South African runner could claim victory in this year’s Comrades Marathon on Sunday.
Experts in long distance running cited natural speed‚ leg power and mental strength among key factors that have boosted local athletes in the down run version of the unforgiving 90km ultra-race.
Going into Sunday’s race‚ six out of the last nine champions on the course from Pietermaritzburg to Durban have been South African since policeman Andrew Kelehe arrested the dominance of foreigners in 2001.
“South African runners now know how to choose races carefully; they no longer over-race before the Comrades‚” opined Willam “Willie” Mtolo‚ a two-time Comrades runner-up who also boasts eight gold medals.
The 1992 New York Marathon champion‚ who guided Bong’musa Mthembu to the 2014 down run triumph in 2014‚ added that “running the Comrades requires a person who is strong mentally and ready to take the pain.”
He picked Mthembu and defending down run champ David Gatebe as favourites to win on Sunday.
Mtolo’s sentiments were echoed by Xolani Mabhida‚ who succeeded him as Mthembu’s coach last year.
“The down run has short hills compared to the up run and our top runners have the build‚ with muscles that can sustain speed and power over a long distance‚” said last year’s winning coach.
Mabhida conceded that his charge will be under pressure in their quest for a hat-trick having annexed the 2014 and last year’s titles.
Renown long distance coach John Hamlett also backed a South African coming away with the title on Sunday‚ looking no further than his Entsika Athletics Club that has former champions Gatebe and Gift Kelehe (2015).
In fact‚ Hamlett‚ who goes by the monicker “Colonel Coach”‚ guided Kelehe to that famous victory 17 years ago.
“Andrew said to me at the time ‘this Russian domination has to stop now!’ and he did it. From there on‚ South Africans have taken their place in the down run‚” said Hamlett.
“Our guys are lot faster and more efficient. Anything can happen on Sunday but we’ll have the same guys going at each other again – Gatebe‚ Mthembu‚ Ludwick [Mamabolo] will be there… but we must be careful of the threat from Lesotho.”
•The race on Sunday starts at 5.30am outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall and finishes 12 hours later at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
SA’s dominance in the down run over the years
2001: Andrew Kelehe (5:25:51)
2003: Fusi Nhlapo (5:28:52)
2005: Sipho Ngomane (5:27:10)
*2007: Leonid Shvetsov‚ Russia (5:20:49)
*2009: Stephen Muzhingi‚ Zimbabwe (5:23:27)
*2010: Stephen Muzhingi (5:29:01)
2012: Ludwick Mamabolo (5:31:03)
2014: Bong’musa Mthembu (5:28:29)
2016: David Gatebe (5:18:19‚ new record)
* Denotes foreign runners
Daniel Mothowagae- TimesLIVE