Two Oceans: great talent from dedicated bunch

2012-04-07 00:00

PICKING a winner for the 2012 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is little different from trying to spot Table Mountain from the mist-enshrouded Good Hope centre, where over 25 000 runners have registered for the 56 km and half marathon events.

Although George Ntshiliza and the top 10 from 2011 are back, few pundits are backing Ntshiliza for a repeat, but equally there is no clear favourite emerging from the wealth of talent that will toe the line.

Ntshiliza was the first South African since Bethuel Netshifhefhe in 2007 to win the race, which last year saw only three local runners slip in amongst the southern region athletes in the top 10.

Soweto Marathon winner Michael Mazimbuko, who ran 2:15:11 in the SA Marathon in February, could lead the national charge.

Ludwick Mamabola, who was second on the last down run Comrades only cracked the Oceans top ten in 2009, but is said to be back on form and gunning for Comrades.

Southern region athletes will undoubtedly head the challenge for top ten places.

Three time Comrades winner Stephen Muzhingi, who is Durban based, has stated his focus is on the 90 km event in June, but is also good for a top 10 and leads a Zimbabwean delegation that includes three time winner Marco Mambo and double gold medallist Mike Fokoroni.

“Everyone wants to win a race, but here my goal is to improve my time in each event. Last year I did a 3:09 and finished fifth so I will go faster than that. If people allow me to win with that it’s fine,” said the Bluff Meats Formula One athlete.

The perennial challenge comes from Lesotho where 2010 winner Mabuthile Lebopo, his brother Warinyane, and 2011 debutant Lebohang Mahloane are only a portion of a talented squad that traditionally work together and come through the field from the Constantia Nek climb.

A number of older and experienced SA athletes have lined up with Gert Thys, the national marathon record holder (2:06:33), out to make amends for not finishing (DNF) in 2011. Thys who ran 2:23 in the SA Marathon has nailed his flag as targeting Thomson Magawana’s 1988 record of 3:03:44.

At his peak this would certainly have been a possibility, but whether he can make an impression as a 40 year old seems highly unlikely particularly given the difference in courses over race history.

Shadrack Hoff has also thrown his hat in the ring, but woke this morning with flu-like symptoms which left Nedbank team manager Nic Bester, questioning Hoff’s performance.

The 38-year-old ran 2:25 in the Pretoria Marathon and has a string of good short distance performances.

Speculation in the woman’s race has been boosted by the withdrawal of Olesya Nurgalieva with a lower leg injury. This will be only the second time that twin Elena will take on the field by herself and in 2006 she finished second to Tatyana Zhirkova in similar situation.

When running together the twins have been invincible.

The 2002 winner Natalya Volgina returns after a nine year absence and could cause an upset, but the most likely challenge will be from debutant Svetlana Semova, who has both 2:29 marathon and world championship mountain running experience.

Ukraine’s Svitlana Stanko should also be in contention, but the foreign duo will lack the route experience, which could be a telling difference.

American Devon Crosby-Helms comes into the race with over five years of international ultra running and has a pedigreethat could see her pick up the pieces from the top three battle. The American hopes to go through 50 km in a new national record, which would mean something faster than 3:13:50.

“It’s [the record] not my primary focus, but I think it is possible to have that as an intermediate target on my way,” said the Californian-based runner, who has yet to see the route, but with a 2:38 marathon can secure a top five place.

Outside these three there are many contenders for the core of the top ten with Samukeliso Moyo, and her cousin Lizih Chokore heading the Zimbabwe challenge. Chokore won both the Old Mutual Om Die Dam and City-to-City 50km events last year and placed her focus on the Cape Classic this time round.

Lesotho’s Mamorallo Tjoka will look to repeat a top five, while Farwa Mentoor cannot be discounted in the race for the first South African.

With Riana van Niekerk said to be battling injury, Adinda Kruger, Ntombesintu Mfuzi and Tshifhiwa Mundalamo will head the South African gold rush with KZN’s Kerry Koen, Maya Lawrie and a vastly improved Suzette Botha all likely to provide the closing of the top ten.

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