‘Marathon Sunday’ stars five of SA’s best

2008-04-12 00:00

five of South Africa’s top marathoners take on the world’s best tomorrow in what has been dubbed Europe’s “Marathon Sunday”.

Hendrick Ramaala, Norman Dlomo, Charne Bosman and wheelchair athletes Ernst van Dyk and Krige Schaburt head the South African contingents in the London and Rotterdam marathons.

Ramaala, with six top finishes in London, including his personal best 2:06,55 for third place in 2006, is keen to step up to the podium.

To do this, the 36-year-old will have to overcome a star-studded field that includes two-time winner Martin Lel, 2006 winner Felix Limo and the youthful Sammy Wanjiri, whose 2:06,39 debut in Fukuoka was the second fastest ever.

Wanjiri (21), a Kenyan, has broken the world half-marathon record three times and undoubtedly has the speed to challenge Haile Gebrselassie’s world record.

Weather predictions of 10˚°C and 80% humidity, plus an improved course smoother than the one on which Khalid Khannouchi set a world record of 2:05,38 in 2002, support expectations of very fast times.

Coming in under the course record will require the leaders to cross Tower Bridge into north London and run the second half in just under 63 minutes.

With Olympic champion Stefano Baldini and world champion Luke Kibet among the 10 athletes who have previously beaten 2:08, there will be no shortage of contenders and each will want to prove a point in the five-month build-up to the Beijing Olympics.

Six-time Boston winner Van Dyk, who set the world’s fastest wheelchair time of 1:18,27 on the assisted American course, has failed to make it on to the podium in London.

Although Van Dyk carved over eight minutes off his second-place time of 2002, his finish last year in 93,46 was good enough only for fourth.

The withdrawal of world record-holder Paula Radcliffe due to an injured toe tendon does not detract from a highly competitive women’s race, where the top seven have times faster than 2:25.

Grete Wami, last year’s World Marathon Majors and Chicago champion; Ethiopian record-holder Berhane Adere; Romanian record-holder Constantina Tomescu-Dita; and veteran Russian Svetlana Zakharova will battle hard for the honours.

Norman Dlomo remains an undeclared favourite in the elite field for the 28th Rotterdam Marathon. He has recently shown the form that could see him make a major improvement on his current persontal best of 2:10,39 set in Milan in December.

Among the 10 000 runners, five athletes headed by Kenyan Robert Cheboror (2:06,23) have times better than 2:07, and a further six have gone below 2:08.

This is exactly the range that Dlomo will be targeting following his win and final preparation in the Nedbank Matha series in Seshego two weeks ago.

This year, the direction of the flat, fast Netherlands course has been changed to shelter runners from the prevailing wind.

This may be a critical advantage for Bosman, who is a late but anxious entrant looking to gain Olympic qualification.

Bosman must shave 21/2 minutes from her 2:39,25 pesonal best set in Amsterdam in 2005 to achieve the ASA standard, but a sub-2:37 would see her under the IAAF A standard and make her the ninth-fastest South African woman ever, which could be sufficient to get the nod for Beijing.

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