Russian record machines

2008-06-15 00:00

Despite numb legs, Russian Leonid Shvetsov rewrote the Comrades up-run record when he crossed the finish at the Pietermaritzburg Oval in five hours, 24 minutes, 46 seconds.

The women’s race was won for the fourth time in a row by Elena Nurgalieva, with twin sister Olesya second again.

The race was led out of Durban by Professor Mollen and other local athletes, including marathoner Sandile Lembethe and Prodigal Khumalo, while Shvetsov was content to crest through Cowies Hill in 64:50, three-and-a-half minutes adrift.

Mollen surrendered the lead to Khumalo before Charles Tjiane pulled the field through the half way hot spot with the Russian following four places adrift in two hours 42 minutes.

But with 30 km remaining, Shvetsov was clear and back on schedule to challenge the up record of 5:25:33 set by Vladimir Kotovo in 2000.

“I knew the record was touch and go from Camperdown, and had to focus, but it was much harder than the down race,” said the 39-year-old Olympic marathoner.

Having slowed on the final challenge of Polly Shortts, the race favourite regained his rhythm, covering the final kilometres in just over 18 minutes. “When I reached the stadium, I could sense the crowd knew the record could go and [they] were behind me.”

The 47-second improvement added a R250 000 bonus to the R220 000 first prize.

“The Olympics are the goal of every athlete, but that aside, Comrades is something very special and it’s the event for me,” said Shvetsov, who is the first man to have consecutive wins and hold the fastest times for both the up- and down-run Comrades since Bruce Fordyce in the late 1980s.

Jaroslaw Janicki caused an upset to the form book by moving through the field to finish second, over 13 minutes behind, while Durban-based Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi stormed around the Oval to fill the final podium position in five hours, 39 minutes, 39 seconds, leaving defending up-run champion Oleg Kharitonov in fourth.

Vladimir Kotov went through halfway in 19th position, but surprised many to work his way into seventh at Camperdown before being overtaken by Harmans Mokagadi, who secured the trophy as first South African in 5:47:09. Kotov, now 50 years of age, finished eighth behind Mncedisi Mhkise, the leading KZN athlete, in 5:48:41.

Provincial favourite Willie Motolo received one of the biggest cheers of the day when he caught 25 runners over the second half to close the top 10 gold medals in 5:53:35.

If the men’s race was about speed, the women’s challenge was about drama. As expected, the Nurgalieva twins led the race from the gun. In the breaking light, and surrounded by a mass of ambitious male runners, three-time winner Elena tripped over a cat’s eye on the outskirts of Westville.

Visibly carrying her injured and bleeding knee, the gutsy Russian got back into fray, only to be tripped for the second time in Hillcrest. A reduced pace allowed 2005 down-run winner, Tatiana Zhirkova, to shadow the twins for most of the race, but she was unable to maintain the challenge up Polly Shortts.

Despite the falls, it was Elena who again proved the strongest as they covered the final run into the Oval where she took the tape in six hours, 14 minutes and 36 seconds, with Olesya having to settle for second.

“Absolutely thrilled with the win, The fall never really disrupted my race, but the heat did. Having come second in Two Oceans, I really wanted the win,” said Elena, who has won the last three up-runs.

Fawar Mentoor went over Cowies Hill in fourth, 30 seconds behind the leaders, and although still two minutes ahead of Riana van Neikerk at Drummond abdicated her six-year crown as first South African to the Mr Price athlete, who secured the sixth gold in 6:43:30. Mentoor held on for eighth 16 minutes later.

Carol Mercer ran a well-judged race to close off the gold medals and take the first KZN award in 7:09:36.

Complete Race Results

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