The biggest Comrades duels down the ages

2013-05-23 00:00

THROUGH the years the Comrades has had its rivalries as athletes give their all for the coveted title of champion on the road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

One of the first great rivalries was between five-time winner Arthur Newton and Harry Phillips.

Phillips was second to Bill Rowan in the first race in 1921 and secured the same spot to Newton in 1922.

He failed to finish in 1923, never ran the following year and bagged another second (to Newton) in 1925. His dream to win the race was realised in 1926 when he proved Newton could be beaten.

Phillips announced his retirement after his victory.

In the 1930s, Hardy Ballington and Bill Cochrane vied for victory, Cochrane preventing a Ballington hat-trick by winning the 1935 race after Ballington had won in 1933 and 1934. In both those races, Cochrane had finished second and both runners returned after WW2 to win again, Ballington getting his fifth crown in 1947 and Cochrane his second in 1946.

Reg Allison, winner of the 1949 race, had to contend with the mighty Wally Hayward in the early 1950s, finishing second to the legend in 1950 and 1951.

In the mid-1950s, double winner Gerald Walsh (1955/56) was denied a third victory in 1957 by Mercer Davies. The 1957 showdown was one of the Comrades’ best, Walsh doing all he could to shake off his rival. Davies drew ahead at Pinetown and surged to his only win in the race. Walsh subsequently finished second to Trevor Allen in 1959 and Jackie Mekler in 1960.

Tommy Malone and Manie Kuhn had their battles in 1966 and 1967. Malone won in 1966 and looked set for a double the following year before sensationally stumbling with cramp at the finish line, allowing Kuhn to sprint through and breast the tape, winning by a mere second.

Despite one win in the race, Kuhn was a consistent podium finisher, securing second in 1964, 1966 and 1968, with a third in 1965.

Four-time winner Alan Robb (1976, 1977, 1978 and 1980) had his greatest tussle in 1982 on the down run, locked in battle with one Bruce Fordyce. It was a great showpiece, Fordyce taking on Robb at his own game on his preferred down route.

The duo reached Hillcrest as the leaders and for 20 km fought an intense battle. Fordyce’s surge down Fields Hill eventually broke Robb as he established a lead of four minutes at the top of Cowies Hill.

Robb ran gamely to finish second, only 29 seconds ahead of Hillcrest’s Tony Abbott.

As nine-time winner of Comrades, Fordyce had his share of rivals. Bob de la Motte gave his all in 1984 only to be beaten. He tried again in 1986 and 1987, relegated to second each time. Hoseah Tjale was another, second to Fordyce in 1985 and 1990, third in 1986 and 1987 and fourth in 1988. Mark Page launched his attack in 1988, but it was only good enough for second.

When foreign runners started staking a claim on the race, the most serious challenge came from 1991 winner Nick Bester, who was second in 1994 and 1996 to Alberto Salazar and Dimitri Grishine.

Since then, it has been hard to predict a winner until Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi bagged a hat-trick from 2009 to 2011. His rival was Russian Leonid Shvetsov, who won in 2007 and 2008. Shvetsov enjoyed a solid comeback last year, finishing fifth, ahead of Muzhingi.

But the greatest rivalry is still that between the athlete and his determination to beat nearly 90 km of open road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

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