Time to have a local runner win the up run

2013-05-27 00:00

THE last South African winner of an up run was Jetman Msutu in 1992.

This after Sipho Ngomane (1995) and Ludwick Mamabolo (2012) have kept the South African flag flying with their wins on the down run.

This year’s race is an up run and perhaps the mould can be broken with a South African win, particularly from last year’s second place man, Pietermaritzburg runner Bongmusa Mthembu.

The first overseas athletes only started running in the Comrades in 1962.

That year, with Jackie Mekler at the height of his powers having won in 1958 and 1960, the Road Runners Club of England sent John Smith, Tom Buckingham, Don Turner and Ron Linstead to our shores.

Smith upset the form book, beating Mekler to become the first foreign winner of the race.

Team-mates Turner, Buckingham and Smith finished third, fourth and fifth, setting the platform for future overseas athletes who have a fine record in the race.

Three years later, in 1965, the same club in England sent Bernard Gomersall to the race to emulate Smith. Gomersall had won the London to Brighton in 1963 and he too rose to the occasion in his debut Comrades, chalking up another British win and relegating Mekler to second.

The following year, Tommy Malone, a Scot who had immigrated to South Africa in 1962, won the race and a hat-trick of wins was secured by Dave Bagshaw (1969-1971), a British immigrant. The Brits arrived in force again in 1972, with a bunch of runners from Tipton Harriers, one being Mick Orton. Bagshaw’s dream of a fourth successive win was shattered by Orton who claimed the title, although Bagshaw in second and Dave Box third, were also British-born. Orton was back in 1973, but could only manage fifth. Englishman Cavin Woodward gave the race his best shot in 1976, leading for much of the way, but succumbing to the great Alan Robb and hanging on for second.

Visiting Frenchman Jean-Marc Bellocq was a strong contender for the 1989 race and gave a solid performance, finishing third behind Wille Mtolo and Sam Tshabalala, the first black runner to win the race. Bellocq was back in 1990, finishing fifth.

International competition became a feature of the race in the mid to late 1990s. German chef Charly Doll joined another German, two British runners, a Frenchman and a Pole in 1993 and was a surprise winner ahead of some strong local favourites. With South Africa out of sporting isolation, this win opened the floodgates for international runners to test their mettle and the years ahead saw an onslaught on the race from a group of strong Russian athletes in particular.

American Alberto Salazar, winner of the New York Marathon in 1980, ’81 and ’82, plus the Boston Marathon in ’82, made a comeback and turned Comrades on its head in 1994. He took the lead after 20 kilometres on the up run and never relinquished his hold, winning ahead of a fast-finishing Nick Bester.

The ageless Vladimir Kotov won the race in 2000, 2002 and 2004, becoming the oldest winner at age 46. Hat-trick winner Stephen Muzhingi (2009, ’10, ’11), although residing in South Africa, runs under the Zimbabwe flag and thus qualifies as an international winner.

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