Strongest men’s field yet in Two Oceans’ history

2011-04-23 00:00

THERE is every reason to believe that this morning’s 42nd running of the Old Mutual Two Oceans 56 km ultra-marathon will see South African runners being given lessons in specialisation, strategy and speed, writes NORRIE WILLIAMSON.

By the time the final ladies’ gold medal is awarded one question could be on the lips of a crowded University of Cape Town finish and the millions of TV viewers: where are the South Africans?

Last year’s clean sweep of the podium by Lesotho athletes led by Mabuthile Lebopo — and of the prize money that makes the Two Oceans one of the World’s most lucrative ultra-marathons — has attracted the strongest men’s field in the history of the race.

Although Lebopo is carrying an injury, an even larger squad from the mountain kingdom has come with their sights on the R1,5 million prize money on offer this year.

This team — which includes Lebopo’s younger brother Warinyane, who was fifth last year, Moeketsi Mosuhli (2nd), Toboho Sello (3rd) — are joined by Cape Town winner Motolokoa Nkhabutlane, Soweto winner Lebenya Nkoka, Moketsi Melaka, and Tsotang Maine. Nkoka’s 2:15:31 in Soweto is worth considerably more and puts him among the fastest and strongest in the field.

Nkhabutlane and Nkoka will be leading contenders on the tough Constantia climb. A perfectly paced race by John Wachira, the first Kenyan to make an impression in the Cape classic, deprived Marco Mambo of his fourth win in the 2009 edition. Not only is Wachira back, but there are an additional handful of his countrymen sporting impressive credentials.

Beijing Olympian Stephen Loruo has a best marathon of 2:10:46, Johnstone Kemboi a 2:12, and Joshua Erebon ran a useful 28:40 for 10 km this year.

“Johnstone told me that they can go under three hours,” said Nic Best of Nedbank. That would beat Thompson Magawana’s 1988 time by three minutes on the Edinburgh Drive course.

“That would be an amazing achievement, but I think it will take faster marathoners to beat those records,” said 1989 record holder Frith van der Merwe, who has returned to run the half-marathon.

“The courses in 1988 and ’89 were faster as it was all down from Kirstenbosch top gate to the Villagers finish.”

Like the Lesotho athletes, the Kenyans run in and for the team, and that makes them a real danger, despite their inexperience over 56 km.

The traditional Zimbabwean attack has also returned, with last year’s sixth-placed Mike Fokorini, World Cup 50 km winner Collen Makaza, triple Two Oceans gold medallist Moses Njodzi and Brighton Chipere, the double Sasol marathon winner and a 2:13 marathoner.

Double Comrades champion Stephen Muzhingi will be hoping to increase his gold medals to four.

Gert Thys, who still holds the South African marathon record of 2:06:33 set in 1999, moves into the ultras with unparalleled pedigree. The 39-year-old churned out a 2:15 marathon in Beijing last year and with his wealth of experience could provide an upset.

If the men’s race is impossible to predict, the ladies’ is almost a foregone conclusion with the return of the Nurgalieva twins.

Their biggest threat would look to come from Russian Nina Podnebesova, a 30-year-old who has a 2:31 marathon to her credit. Madina Biktagirova knows what it takes to beat the twins and tips her Nedbank team-mate for the podium.

Hungarian Simona Staicu has also returned as a top 10 contender.

Zimbabweans Samukeliso Moyo, fifth in 2010, and Lizih Chokore, the winner of the Old Mutual Om Die Dam, multiple Comrades gold medallist Marina Myshlyanova and Lesotho’s Mamorallo Tjoka can all make solid claims as top 10 contenders.

It is quite probable that South Africans, who are generally over-raced and focusing on Comrades, will only fill two places amongst the golds.

Tshifhiwa Mundalamo and Gladys Lukwareni look to be the lead locals.

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