Mamabolo back for glory

2014-05-31 00:00

DEFENDING Comrades Marathon down run champion Ludwick Mamabolo was reminiscent of the great Muhammad Ali when the top men and women contenders for this year’s down run tomorrow met the media in Durban yesterday.

Asked about how he had moved on since his win, which was clouded with doping allegations, Mamabolo did not hold back. “That so-called cloud has long gone. That was 2012, two years ago,” he said. “Why are people still concerned with 2012. I live for now, 2014, and Sunday’s race where I have come to win, nothing else.”

Part of the strong Nedbank team managed by 1991 Comrades winner and multiple gold medallist Nick Bester, Mamabolo made no bones about his intentions tomorrow, giving a clear indication that he is more than keen to defend his title.

“We have a strong team and are here to win. It’s time South African runners started dominating Comrades again and in recent years, we have done well in the down run,” he said. “I am here to run, to do what God and the angels tell me to do. I have respect for the other top runners, but look at our team. The competition as to who will win comes from among us, not other runners.”

Indeed, the Nedbank team are strong. Last year’s up run winner Claude Moshiywa and second placed Jonas Buud also wear the club’s green colours and both are equally confident of breasting the tape at the finish.

“Yes, I will admit I am under pressure to perform. I never realised all the pressure and responsibility that comes with winning the race, but I am ready to do the same as last year,” said Moshiywa. “I have done the same training and I have no challengers on race day. I haven’t come to the race to take on anyone. All I have to do is run to how I have trained.”

Buud, who ripped through the field in the second half of last year’s run to finish strongly behind his team-mate. “That’s how I run. I start slowly and watch other runners burn themselves out and then I kick into gear, coming back strongly in the second half of the race.” He said. “It’s about being consistent and keeping the engine running the same throughout the race.”

Another member of the team is Bongumusa Mthembu, third in 2010 and second in 2012. It seems he saves his best for the even years and if the sequence is followed correctly, first is the only place for him to be. “I have prepared well, but whatever happens on the day can never be predicted. All I am doing is running against my watch and when I reach Durban, I hope it tells me a good time,” he said.

Three-time Comrades winner Stephen Muzhingi, running for the Toyota Running Club said he would be happy with a top 10 finish as injury had plagued his race preparation. “I battled with injury after last year’s Comrades and was out of training for six months,” he said. “It was mid-January this year when I started training again and speed work was done only after Two Oceans.”

Asked why he would risk further possible injury running tomorrow, Muzhingi epitomised the spirit of Comrades, saying, “I like this race and want to train hard for it. I don’t want to miss the race. Even last year, my doctor told me not to run, but I have to. It’s Comrades.”

Mamabolo grabbed his chance on hearing Muzhingi’s woes and said, “Stephen and I are good friends and he is a strong runner. I am disappointed he is carrying an injury as his challenge will not be the same and beating him, for me, will not feel good. Better to beat him when he is fit and 100%.”

Samancor also have a strong contingent, with Gift Kelehe, brother of 2001 winner Andrew, wanting to bring glory to the name once more. “Last year, I had a bad patch and carried a stress fracture, but I still ran 70 km before the team manager pulled me off the road,” he said. “My training has gone well and I am prepared. This year, I spent eight weeks away from home, in Dullstroom, and I am focused like never before. I want to put a legacy on the Kelehe name.”

Fanie Matshipa and Surprise Makofane are also in the Samancor team, Matshipa the owner of two gold medals, while Mafokane was 21st last year in his first run, winning his age group. He no doubt has ambitions to be first on the podium in years to come.

Another youngster not scared to put his heart on the table is Russian Vasilii Larkin, a 22-year-old who won his first 100 km race earlier in the year. The Mr Price Maxed Elite runner said, “This is my first Comrades and I wanted to run because the race is world famous. I want to run between 5:30 and 5:35.” These are winning times and he could be one to watch.

For the women, the Russian twins Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva look to stamp their authority on the race once more, Elena aiming to emulate Bruce Fordyce in claiming her ninth winner’s medal. South Africa’s best challenge comes from Charné Bosman, who finished a credible fifth in her first run last year. “She is in incredible shape and has tweaked her training from last year,” said Bester. “She trained at altitude in Graskop and is ready for this race.”

Another Russian to watch in the women’s race is Marina Zhalybina. She may not have won the race but she has the most number of gold medals — 12 — for a woman in the race.

It’s tough to predict a winner as the long and winding road invariably has its say somewhere along the way, no matter what kind of runner a person may be.

Another top contender, Johannes Kekana of the Toyota Club, said it best when he touched on his team’s game plan saying, “We are here to win the team trophy and we have a strategy, but … that strategy is our secret.”

The road to Durban is fraught with danger and pain and the man and woman with the best plan will surely win.

Sticking their neck out, The Witness trifecta for tomorrow is:

Men: Jonas Buud, Claude Moshiywa, Ludwick Mamabolo. Women: Elena Nurgalieva, Charné Bosman, Marina Zhalybina.

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