Death cloud over Comrades

2007-06-18 07:48

Pietermaritzburg - A Comrades Marathon runner died on Sunday 20 minutes after being carried across the finishing line by fellow runners he had been encouraging only moments earlier.

Another runner remains in critical condition in St Augustine's Hospital in Durban after he also collapsed at the finish at Kingsmead Stadium.

Comrades Marathon Association head of medicine Dr Jeremy Boulter said the deceased, a 34-year-old man whose name is being withheld until his family are informed, died after suffering cardiac arrest.

Boulter believed this occurred shortly after he entered the stadium, moments before the 11-hour cut-off.

"Immediate and extensive CPR was performed for 20 minutes but medics were unfortunately unsuccessful. Current indications are that his heart had stopped prior to him crossing the line."

A packed stadium watched as the pale body was carried toward the line by four anxious runners each gripping a limp limb. At this point the man's eyes were shut and he appeared unconscious.

Boulter said further tests will be conducted to determine whether any underlying causes contributed to the death.

The second runner, also an unnamed man, was resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest as he entered the medical tent looking for help.

Quiet race until then

"Ironically it had been the quietest medical day for the Comrades in 29 years, until these two tragic incidents. This is the first death on the route, although in previous years runners have died in hospital after collapsing during the race. The only other incidents on the day were a few routine cases of exhaustion and dehydration," Boulter said.

Carsten Frischmuth, one of the runners who helped carry the deceased across the line, couldn't believe how quickly his condition worsened.

"He ran past us with two kilometres to go encouraging all of us to come along. When we got to one kilometre to go he started wandering all over the road and then collapsed inside the stadium. We had to make a call on whether we should leave him and call the medics or go on. We decided to help carry him through and make the 11 hour cut off," he lamented.

CMA media liaison Katia Jones said it was "a very sad day for the Comrades Marathon, especially after his fellow runners went to such lengths to carry him across the line"

Beeld reported that hundreds of runners streamed across the line in the final quarter hour before the 12 hour cut-off signal.

Thirty-year-old Briton Richard Whitehead became the first runner with artificial legs to complete the tortuous Comrades, a symbol of the tough spirit which over the past 80 years has become synonymous with the ultra marathon.

Whitehead, who was born without legs, completed the Comrades in just under ten hours.

In his second attempt Wayne Yan, 36, of Gauteng just managed to beat the clock.

Jacob Rossouw, 46, who has run the Comrades six times and completed it three times, was the first competitor who just failed to make it after the official cut-off point.