Athletics

10 things to know about Comrades

Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe wins the 2009 Comrades Marathon. (Gallo Images)
Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe wins the 2009 Comrades Marathon. (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Months of grueling training for over 20 000 runners will be put to the test on Sunday when the 90th edition of the Comrades Marathon takes place.

This year is an up-run, starting in Durban and ending in Pietermaritzburg, and it is made even more special by the milestone anniversary. 

Sport24 will be bringing you the action every step of the way on Sunday, but in the meantime here are 10 things about the race that you might not have known.

1. The first ever Comrades Marathon was in 1921 after founder Vic Clapham had secured a £1 loan to get the ball rolling. The starting time was 07:00, which was changed to 06:00 the following year so that runners wouldn't finish the race in the dark, and the time limit was 12 hours. There were just 16 official finishers in that first race.

2. In 1922, South African rugby player and Natal cricketer Bill Payn supposedly ran Comrades in his rugby boots, with a few beers along the way, turning up for a match the next day in his tekkies because of the blisters on his feet. 

3. In 1923, Frances Hayward became the first woman to enter the Comrades Marathon. Her entry was refused, but she ran the race anyway and finished with 25 minutes to spare. She was not awarded a medal. 

4. Bruce Fordyce has the most men's wins with 9, while Russia's Elena Nurgalieva leads the women with 8 wins. Dave Rogers has the most Comrades medals - a whopping 45.

5. The first black runner was Robert Mtshali in 1935. He completed the race, but was not given an official finish. Vincent Rakabele was the first black runner to officially win a medal in 1975. 

6. The Comrades Marathon was not run between 1941 and 1945 as World War II gathered momentum. 

7. In 1992, Charl Mattheus won Comrades and proposed to his girlfriend at the finish line in one of the most memorable moments in the race's history. He was stripped of the win six weeks later after testing positive for banned substances.

8. There have been numerous instances of cheating in the race. Perhaps the most famous incident came in 1999 through the Motsoeneng brothers - Sergio and Fika. Sergio started the race, Fika ran the middle stages, and then Sergio finished in ninth. The brothers had changed clothes in a road-side toilet, but were caught later when photographs showed them wearing watches on opposite arms.

9. Russian Leonid Shvetsov holds the record for the fastest ever Comrades - 5:20:49 that came in the 2007 down-run. He broke the record for the up-run the following year, and still holds both.

10. South Africa have not had a winner in the women's race since Rae Bisschoff all the way back in 1998.

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