The winner’s name cold well start with an S — Shvetsov, Sergei or Stephen Muzhingi

2012-05-28 00:00

WHEN you are the owner of four gold medals from five outings in the Comrades Marathon, there must surely be a very good reason and incentive to pull you out of a two-year retirement to undertake a comeback.

That would seem to be the case for Leonid Shvetsov, who also holds the fastest time for both the up and down run races, but lost his crown to Zimbabwean and defending champion Stephen Muzhingi in 2009.

It is highly unlikely that the Russian has come this way for a Sunday jog over a course that can deliver a R250 000 first prize plus multiple bonuses.

After making his debut in second spot in 2001 the talented USA-based doctor dropped to a 7:21:35 silver medal in the following up run and then took a five year sojourn to return with a record-breaking down run of 5:20:4. It was clear at the top of Polly Shortts that the record was in his sights and nothing got in his way. He repeated the feat in the following year’s up run, putting a time of 5:24:47 as the time by which all future Comrades would be measured.

A tactical error in 2009 saw him chase Zimbabwean Marco Mambo up Inchanga and becoming too involved in the competitive side of the race too early. It cost him dearly later when he finally took the lead up Cowies, but already started to cramp and left him without the energy to counter Muzhingi, who had paced his race perfectly to take the lead and victory with 11 km remaining. Shvetsov finished over 12 minutes slower than his previous down and no doubt this left unfinished business.

However his return may also be prompted by the debut of another Russian, Sergei Lukin, who owns a 2:10:57 marathon from Eindhoven in 2003 and last year ran Dublin Marathon in 2:15, making him one of the fastest qualifiers in the near 16 000 runners.

At the turn of the year Lukin confirmed his speed with an 8:23,93 on the tight-cornered indoor track in St Petersburg, and with a personal best of 4:09 for the mile he is no slouch, but has no recorded ultra-distance experience. What of course he does have is the vast experience, planning and preparation of one of the best Comrades runners ever, Leonid Shvetsov, his training partner.

While six-time Comrades winner Elena Nurgalieva will be forced to run without her twin sister, Olesya, it is another Russian duo who could pull and shake the field apart in the men’s race.

Running together in the early sections of the race would give Lukin a major advantage, as this is where the day is made or broken and history shows its more often broken by the vast majority of runners who cover the first 24 km to Camperdown at unrealistic paces.

There would be little incentive for them to split over the next 40 km to Botha’s Hill, but if they feel there are too many contenders on a realistic pace, don’t be surprised to see Shvetsov move ahead to destroy the rhythm.

Which competitor would be happy to allow the double victor and record-holder away? And yet to follow could well be the nail in the coffin of a wannabe winner.

If they do have plans to work as a team, Shvetsov and Lukin have a myriad of tactical options to play to disrupt any contenders.

The true objective and strategy of this Russian pairing is likely to be exposed only in the last third when the potential of the day comes to light at Cowies Hill.

Those final 17 km have seen medals and crowns switch hands multiple times, but it is the person with the most in the tank who gets the exhilaration and reward of flying downhill into the city and the mayors message as they enter

Sahara Kingsmead stadium.

The chances look extremely strong that the winner’s name will start with an S. But will that be Shvetsov, Sergei or their most likely challenger, Stephen Muzhingi?

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