A quarter of a million rand awaits the contender who can best exploit any of the front runners’ mistakes

2012-06-01 00:00

THE 90km-bout between triple Comrades winner and defending down run champion Stephen Muzhingi and Leonid Shvetsov, the fastest runner on both the Up and Down run, has grabbed the headlines, but if either comes adrift over the gruelling route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban on Sunday, a barrage of contenders are ready willing and able to grab their piece of the glory, and R250 000!

The Comrades becomes the pinnacle of each road running year for the two major clubs, Mr Price Sport and Nedbank Running Club, with each having invested in and assisted over 20 international athletes to wear their colours.

In addition there are massive entries from these clubs from all corners and provinces of South Africa.

The vast majority of the 33 entries from Bluff Meats Formula One, home club for Muzhingi, come from Zimbabwe and Lesotho.

Other corporates such as Bonitas, a major Comrades sponsor, and Toyota have focused their investment in local runners, but their goals are the same — to gain as many gold medals and as much exposure as possible around the five and three-quarter hours that it will take for the top 10 positions to be determined.

This vast array of talent makes prediction of the top spots akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Zimbabwean Marco Mambo, a multiple Two Oceans winner, made his debut in Comrades in 2009, but has yet to capitalise on his talent over the 90 km, while Mike Fokoroni, who has often led the foreign charge in major South African races, is another worth watching.

Arguably the most overlooked athlete is KZN-based Bongmusa Mthembu, who has multiple gold and third place finishes to his credit.

He is consistently to the fore in races, but treasures the home ground advantage of Comrades. The Mr Price runner is also favourite to be the first KZN runner across the line.

With Muzhingi the ace in their pack, the Bluff Meats Formula One team have many runners with fast times over both the short and longer distances, and in past years have also dominated the three men’s “hot spots” at Camperdown, Half Way and Pinetown’s Cowies Hill. Their focus on this serves a double purpose as it often disguises their overall team tactics by pulling other contenders too fast in the early climb to Umlaas road and beyond.

Who has been earmarked for the hot spots is as keenly awaited, as it is kept secret.

Little has been said this year over Olaksandr Holovnitskvy, who has the speed to outrun most of the field, but has lost coverage following his debut 6:18 up run. This could well be a mistake given that few runners reach their potential until their third or fourth outing and with the 2011 experience and team co-operation he should not be discounted from the fray.

Nic Bester, team manager of the Nedbank Green Dream Team, says that Swede Jonas Buud and Malawian Henry Moyo are the guys to challenge the podium, and with top five places in 2011 it’s a fair comment, particularly when Buud has carved 12 minutes from his best 100 km time and is now an owner of a six hour 28 minutes. This equals the world record that Fordyce set in the Stellenbosch 100 km in 1989, a fact indicating Buud’s readiness for better things.

Moyo has undoubtedly served his apprenticeship and if he runs his own race could move up if the Muzhingi v Shvetsov fight falls apart.

It is rare for teams to tip other team runners, but Claude Moshiywa’s name frequently comes up in discussions.

The Nedbank athlete has a Comrades third and was fourth in this year’s Loskop 50 km where he knocked five minutes from his previous outing. Moshiywa is part of the large contingent of Nedbank Gauteng North, which is where Bester has gathered his national athletes in an attempt to win the prestigious Gunga Din team trophy for the club with the fastest four runners over the line.

By comparison, the Mr Price Sport have focused their team efforts on their KZN home base, with the likes of Mncedisi Mkhize, the highly experienced, previous winner Fusi Nhlapo and novice Gert Thys.

If anyone has the legs to cause an upset it is Thys, the SA Marathon record holder, (2:06:33) and the fastest marathoner to line up in the history of Comrades.

While his ultra inexperience, 40 summers and erratic blood sugar may count against him; his planning, pacing and stealth do not. He remained a top end contender in this year’s Old Mutual Two Oceans until his medical seconds were unable to reach him to check and rectify his blood sugar with around five kilometres to go.

It’s a challenge that has been overcome for Comrades and the one certainty is that this is not a man to underestimate!

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