Comrades set to provide thrills

2019-06-12 06:00
Japan’s Nao Kazami is one of defending champ Bongmusa Mthembu’s official rivals for the Comrades Marathon on Sunday.PHOTO: IRUNFAR.COM / Twitter.com

Japan’s Nao Kazami is one of defending champ Bongmusa Mthembu’s official rivals for the Comrades Marathon on Sunday.PHOTO: IRUNFAR.COM / Twitter.com

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THE 94th edition of the Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on Sunday has the makings of a compelling race, with Bongmusa Mthembu’s crown threatened by Japanese newcomer Nao Kazami and others from inside and outside the country.

Three-time champion Mthembu has come through a successful training spell at high altitude in Lesotho and is currently finalising his preparations for this weekend’s mighty athletic challenge in the Underberg-Bulwer area, according to his coach Xolani Mabhida.

This is while Kazami, who holds the world 100 km record of 6 hours, 9 minutes and 14 seconds, has been added to the official list of contenders by the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) despite his lack of experience in this particular race.

The 36-year-old achieved his record last year and will run his first Comrades on Sunday. In fact, Kazami knew nothing about the Comrades until he met the South African contingent at the IAU 100 km World Championships in Croatia last year.

Mthembu’s coach Mabhida says the “Bulwer Bomber” is in top mental and physical condition at present and looking forward to the gripping race.

“Bongmusa has trained very well and is now doing short jogs and things in his final week of preparations. He had a good camp in the hills of Lesotho and I know he does not fear Kazami, because we were the ones who actually invited Kazami to try the Comrades experience.

“I am not saying he is not a threat, but he lacks Comrades experience.

“We believe Bongmusa’s main rivals will be Nkosinathi Duma, who is Bongmusa’s team-mate and has also been training very well, [2016 champion] David Gatebe, Gordon Lesetedi and Steven Way.”

The other official male contenders are 2015 champ Gift Kelehe, two-gold holder Hatiwande Nyamande of Zimbabwe, three-gold holder Teboho Sello, 2018 runner-up Joseph Mphuthi, very experienced runners Ludwick Mamabolo, Marko Mambo and Mike Fokoroni, as well as Edward Mothibi.

Added Mabhida: “There are also a lot of exciting novices in the field and we think the first half of the race is going to be very fast, but after 60 kilometres we’ll get a much better idea of who the real contenders are.”

The women’s favourites list has had a forced alteration, because well-known Kwa­Zulu-Natalian Tanith Maxwell has been ruled out due to an injury, as has American Sarah Bard, the CMA confirmed yesterday.

The leading women contenders are 2018 runner-up Gerda Steyn, 2018 champion Ann Ashworth and 2017 champion Camille Herron.

The powerful and experienced Herron is one of 166 Americans due to be in the field of more than 21 000 runners on Sunday, with two-thirds of these brave athletes being between the ages of 35 and 49.

The other official female favourites are 2016 champion Charne Bosman, tall American Devon Yanko and former short-distance runner Danette Smith.

Behind the front men, as many as 26 people will be seeking “Triple Green” status of 30 finishes, including 1995 Comrades champion Shaun Meiklejohn from Hilton, while a smaller number have actually done it more than 40 times.

Meanwhile, the Comrades Expo opens at the Durban Exhibition Centre on Thursday and race director Rowyn James will give a media briefing on the event on the same afternoon, with pro athletes providing their thoughts on the race the next morning.

As usual, the three-day Expo will form an integral part of Comrades race week as it serves as the official registration point for the race.

Sunday’s big event will be broadcast live from 5 am on SABC.

The race starts 30 minutes later and the first cut-off comes at 8.10 am at St John’s Ave Subway in Pinetown, with the next at 10 am at Winston Park and the halfway one at 11.40 am at Drummond.

Three further cut-offs come in the second half of the gruelling ultra-marathon as a safety feature and road-clearing exercise.

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