The Comrades records that will never be broken

2013-05-24 00:00

RECORDS abound in the Comrades and some are preserved in eternity, never to be broken.

The most obvious record to stand the test of time is Bill Rowan’s winning time of 8,59 in the first race in 1921, a down run. This is and always will be the slowest winning time of the race. His legacy lives on with the Bill Rowan Medal, introduced in 2000, for runners finishing between 7,30 and Rowan’s finishing time. It’s a cherished medal with a bronze centre enclosed by a silver border.

Phil Masterton-Smith will always have the honour of being the race’s youngest winner. Contrary to belief, Wally Hayward’s 1930 win at age 21 is not the record. Masterton-Smith won the race the following year at age 19, and with entrants having to be 20 years or older these days, his record is secure. He too enjoys legendary status in the race, with the fourth year of the Unogwaja (the hare) Challenge, whereby a group of 12 participants, representing four countries, emulate his feat of 1933.

Living in Cape Town and unable to afford a train ticket to the race, he took a 10-day cycle, arriving in Durban the day before the race. He finished 10th overall and his achievement ranks as one of the great undertakings in human endurance.

He was also involved in two of the race’s closest finishes. In 1930, Masterton-Smith chased Hayward to the finish in Pietermaritzburg, on the track as Hayward crossed the line, a mere 37 seconds ahead. The following year, it was Masterton-Smith’s turn to dig deep as he held off Noel Buree by two seconds as the pair dashed for the finish.

To date, the closest finish, by a mere second, was Manie Kuhn’s 1967 win. Tommy Malone had already taken the traditional mayoral scroll and seemed certain to have his second successive win in the bag. With crowds ready to applaud him as the winner, Malone suddenly stumbled, with Kuhn 20 metres behind. Malone tried in vain to get up, but fell again. In a final, desperate effort, he lunged for the tape as Kuhn burst past and beat him to it.

At the other end of the scale, Allen Boyce lays claim to the biggest winning margin, a staggering 1:50:28 in the 1940s up run. Second man home, W.D. Parr was as far back as Umlaas Road when Boyce reached Polly Shortts, and Boyce’s win is considered one of the race’s great achievements, taking into account he ran most of the way out in front on his own, with minimal crowd support.

With no Comrades runs from 1941 to 1945, Parr returned in 1946, again finishing second, nearly an hour behind Bill Cochrane. That year lays claim to another safe record, the fewest finishers, as eight men completed the trip from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. Edgar Marie was the last man home in 10:59:58.

Alan Robb had a record-breaking down run in 1978 when he became the first winner to beat the 5,30 mark, winning in 5:29:14. In second place was “Waltzing” Dave Wright, 19 minutes and 26 seconds later. When Robb breasted the tape, Wright was more than four kilometers away, in Mayville.

During his reign, Bruce Fordyce’s biggest winning margin was 15 minutes 36 seconds in the 1983 up run. He clocked 5:30:12, with Gordon Shaw arriving second in 5:45:48.

Hayward, who has left his mark on the race as one of its greats with five wins to his name, has the record of being the oldest finisher. In the 1989 down run, he beat the clock by seconds to finish a few weeks short of his 81st birthday.

These days, in the professional era, the top 10 athletes arrive home within minutes of each other. It’s high-class running and a two- or three-minute gap is seen as considerable. The biggest winning margin will probably never be beaten and the next best thing to winning by a second is a dead heat, something which will probably never happen in the Comrades.

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