No quarter will be asked or given in Two Oceans race today

2013-03-30 00:00

“IF you want to win, you have to race.” Those were the words of SA Marathon record-holder Gert Thys, who returns for his second Old Mutual Two Oceans 56 km today.

The race has attracted a field of almost 11 000 runners, including more than 1 800 international visitors.

“It used to be that you could run easy for much of the race, and then speed up over the final section to secure victory, but now it’s a race from the start,” said Thys, who last year predicted he would break the reco-rd, but settled for fourth, one minute, 34 seconds behind triple Comrades winner Stephen Muzhingi.

Thys has adopted a more conservative approach this year, promising to keep a little in the tank, not least because of the announcement by Old Mutual CEO of emerging markets, Ralph Mupita, that from 2014 there would be a R1 million incentive for the man or woman who broke the race records set by Thompson Magawana (3:03:44) in 1998 and Frith van der Merwe (3:30:46).

It’s a move likely to see a landscape change to the race in coming years, substantiating Thys’s call to race.

Durban-based Zimbabwean Muzhingi is back to defend his title and has improved his time over the past four years to last year’s 3:08:08 victory, while any further improvement will be hard to beat.

Pietermaritzburg’s Bongumusa Mthembu, runner-up in the 2012 Comrades, and eight other of last year’s top 10 are back, and with Ludwick Mamabola returning from his provisional doping suspension, there will be no quarter asked or given in the battle for gold.

Although the Russian duo of Elena and Olyesa Nurgalieva are tipped to continue their domination of the race, the debut by Zimbabwean Thanbita Tstatsa could see an upset, particularly with Olyesa who has been back training for eight months after the birth of her son last May.

The twins placed one-two in a half-marathon in Turkey in March but were minutes off their best. However, they have the added advantage of extensive course knowledge, worth minutes over any novice.

There is substantial depth in the women’s field, with Natalia Volgina, Nina Podnebesnova the faster marathoners, while trail runner Ellie Greenwood, the Canada-based Briton, proved her worth when finishing a close second to Elena Nurgalieva in the Comrades.

The large international contingent in the women’s race could limit the South Africans to three of the top ten, with Carien Visser, who trotted her way through Om Die Dam, one of many tipped for gold.

With nine weeks until this year’s Comrades, many runners will be willing to put extra effort into the Cape classic, including Kerry Koen, the first South African in the Comrades, Julanie Basson, and triple SA Marathon champion Charne Bosman, who will move up to the 56 km distance for the first time. Eskom’s Suzette Botha and Richards Bay’s Melanie van Rooyen have both been running well and on current form, may provide some excitement from the provincial viewpoint.

By last night, the runners and organisers were fully prepped for the the race, which is predicted to be run in a cool 16°C.

But the biggest upset could come from the south-easter that is predicted to blow at 45-60 km/h. It’s an ill wind that could easily rearrange the best of predictions.

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