The GREAT also-rans

2016-05-25 06:00
BELOW: Andrew Kelehe, winner of the 2001 Comrades, notched up 10 consecutive gold finishes from 1997 to 2006.

BELOW: Andrew Kelehe, winner of the 2001 Comrades, notched up 10 consecutive gold finishes from 1997 to 2006.

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THERE’S a common saying in sport that “those who come second are never remembered”.

It’s the winners who hold the trophy aloft and see their names on honours boards while for the rest, it’s a matter of going home and trying again.

The Comrades Marathon is all about winners, whether breasting the tape as the first man or woman home or scrambling for the line before the 12-hour gun signals the end of the day.

Through the history of the race there have been those runners who have consistently challenged for overall glory and while some have broken through the barrier and notched a win to their credit, there are many others whose names are forgotten when talking of the greats of the race. Human nature dictates that a winner is always remembered while the rest make up the numbers.

In the 1920s, Harry Phillips was such a runner. Second in the inaugural race in 1921, he added two more runner-up spots to his name in 1922 and 1925, retiring from the race when he finally got the better of the first of the Comrades greats, five-time winner Arthur Newton, in 1926. When another five-time winner, Hardy Ballington, dominated the 1930s, his biggest challenge came from Bill Cochrane who, in his tally of five gold medals, managed two wins but also two second places.

Allen Boyce, the 1940 winner when he came home a whopping hour and 50 minutes ahead of the second man, ended his Comrades days with eight gold medals, which included four runner-up finishes.

His feat is matched by 1949 winner Reg Allison, who also finished second on four occasions in his haul of six golds.

Characters from the 1950s who left their mark on the race were double winners Trevor Allen and Gerald Walsh.

Allen bagged a healthy 10 gold medals in his time on the road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, half of those being third place finishes, while Walsh had three seconds and two thirds at the height of his running power which saw seven gold medals to his name, including back-to-back wins in 1955/56.

Manie Kuhn, always remembered for his one-second win in 1967 when cramps saw Tommy Malone fall before the finish, was second on three occasions, with a third and fourth spot thrown in for good measure. He has six gold medals to his credit.

In the Bruce Fordyce era, every Comrades was the question of who, if anybody, could beat him on the day.

The Hillcrest Villagers duo of Graeme Fraser and Tony Abbott finished with six and four gold medals respectively, Fraser having two third places and Abbott a third and two fourth placings as their best finishes.

Boysie van Staden, closing in on his 40th run, was another Fordyce pursuer yet he could not taste victory. His six golds included two fourths, while 1991 winner Nick Bester, with nine gold medals, was second on three occasions.

Mark Page, who courageously threw down the gauntlet with Fordyce, might only have three golds to his name, but two of those were for finishing second, his efforts never enough to break the Fordyce stranglehold.

Alan Robb, with four wins, still holds the record for the most gold medals with 12 in his bag, but if two runners deserve the mantle of the unluckiest Comrades runners of them all, it must be Bob de la Motte and Hoseah ‘Hoss’ Tjale.

They tried everything possible to crumble Fordyce, yet were never able to be first into the stadium. Both De la Motte and Tjale ran times under five-and-a-half hours, yet it was not enough.

De la Motte looked to have the 1986 down run sewn up, but his time of 5:26:12, which still rates as one of the best ever for the down run, was 125 seconds too slow as Fordyce clocked 5:24:07.

Likewise Tjale, third in that 1986 run, who also broke the five-and-a-half hour barrier with 5:29:02. A popular runner, Tjale hung up his shoes with nine golds, including two second and two third places.

These days, the gold medallists change year to year, although 2001 winner Andrew Kelehe has 10 golds and his brother Gift, last year’s winner, has four.

Ludwick Mamabolo has been another consistent finisher, winning in 2012 and boasting a growing tally of five golds to his name.

This Sunday, that cherished tape awaits to perhaps welcome another new name to the winner’s rostrum, but then again, one of those experienced war horses might just have a point to prove once more.

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