‘SA teams can learn from foreigners’

2011-05-28 00:00

“SOUTH Africans won’t dominate until they stop racing each other and start working as a team.” That’s the opinion of Pietermaritzburg-based Bongmusa Mthembu, third in last years’ down-run and a contender for top honours in tomorrow’s 86th Comrades Marathon.

The Mr Price runner was adamant that he had done his preparation and was as ready for the up-run as he could be, but that local athletes are so focused on racing each other they are destroying their potential.

“I’ve done the training and I will do what it takes, but we [South Africans] need to learn from the foreigners. The Russians run as a team, even the Lesotho runners help each other even when they are from different clubs and we go into races to beat each other. We need to be proud of being South African and assist each other — then we can be top.”

There can be no question that the 27-year-old hit the nail on the head and it is highly probable that despite local talent the race will again be dominated by the foreign invasion.

The Durban-based Bluff Meat Formula One team will be prominent from the gun and can be expected to send out the rabbits in search of the hot spot prizes, the first of which is near the top of Cowies Hill.

Jari Munradzi, Samson Kiplagaat and Bernard Dandazi are likely to keep contenders guessing as to whether they are racing the whole distance or just interested in the hot spots.

Although double down-run winner Stephen Muzhingi goes in as favourite, he will be augmented by Oleksander Holovntskyy who has trained with the champion for the past three months. With a 2:18 marathon and 6:53 for a 100 km he goes into the race with useful credentials and it is estimated that he has covered the course seven times in training.

Add in Tapiwa Chingadaia, a 2:20 marathoner, and you have a triumvirate who can protect each other through to where the real race begins after Lion Park.

“The down-run is painful, I prefer the up,” said Muzinghi who is unfazed by the pressure of being champion and favourite. “When you run your own race there is no pressure. The pressure comes only when you are racing others …” His goal is to improve the 5:39 third place of 2008.

Even the predictable can be unpredictable in Comrades and eager contenders will pounce on any slip by the Muzhingi group.

The more established contenders include 2006 winner Oleg Kharintonov, who has seven gold amongst his nine medals. The world 100 mile record holder missed 2010, but is back for his favoured direction.

Then there is the experienced Jaroslaw Janicki, who was second in 2004 and 2008 up-runs, but failed to finish the down last year.

Ludwick Mamabolo, who impressed with a rampant charge to second place last year when he secured the novice award, has been quiet and goes into the race as a bit of an unknown quantity.

Amongst the many novices for this year Swede Jonas Buud stands out. He is the European 100 km champion and was second in last year’s World 100 km. With this level of foreign focus, little room is left for local athletes.

Nedbank’s Harmans Mokgadi, Mr Price’s Mncedisi Mkhize and Claude Moshiywa, together with Toyota’s Fanie Matsipa are but a sample of who can claim a stake in the gold but, as Mthembu points out, the tendency to race each other makes it virtually impossible to predict who will come through from among the 20 that have the talent to make it under the 5hr:50min finish expected to achieve gold.

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