Russian invasion set to win again

2008-06-09 00:00

There seems little doubt that one of the Russian Nurgalieva twins will win the 2008 Comrades up-run on Sunday. The question is, which one?

Since taking 2006 off to focus on marathons, it is Olesya Nurgalieva who has tended to be the twin to reach the top podium step. Several 2:30 marathons and a Two Oceans win that was barely four minutes outside Frith van der Merwe’s record is a sure indicator of form that marks her as favourite for the Comrades Crown come Sunday. But we write off sister Elena Nurgalieva at our peril.

Elena has three wins to her name, two of these are on the up-run, and the fastest time of 6:09:24 in 2006.

Discussion that their ability to win would be diminished when running solo were dismissed with Elena’s 2006 up-run win over Marina Bychkova, who presents one of the strongest threats to their domination.

Bychkova has placed second on the last two up runs and third in 2000 and 2001. It is a record that only the twins can match and clearly identifies her up-run preference.

Although some pundits point to 2006 Two Oceans and 2005 Comrades winner Tatiana Zhirkova as a bigger danger, her low-lifting stride is less suited to the up-run.

Marina Myshlyanova completes the Russian contingent of challengers. A repeat of her 2006 fifth place is on the cards, but she will face South Africa’s Riana van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk reduced her PB to 2:43 in 2007 and put pay to Farwa Mentoor’s recent run as first South African in the Two Oceans 56 km. Van Niekerk’s downfall could be her heavy racing schedule this year. This could come back to haunt her, as she closes in on the testing Little Pollies.

Mentoor, by comparison, has been unusually quiet, both in racing and training, leaving speculation as to whether something is wrong, or she is in the shape of her life.

Any slip of performance between Van Niekerk and Mentoor will probably be punished by Grace de Oliveira, who goes for her eighth gold in her 10th run, or comeback kid Carol Mercer, who is keen to regain the first South African status she held when she pipped De Oliveira in 2001.

But perhaps the one runner that can really set the cat among the pigeons is three-time winner Maria Bak.

No longer entered by any of the big clubs, little is known about her training or form, but it would be foolish to discount the German in the reckoning for Sunday’s gold medals.

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