Ntshiliza Returns To Two Oceans Marathon

George Ntshiliza will be competing in the 56K Two Oceans Marathon as the defending champ. Photo: Super Sport

The returning champion hopes to win the grueling 56K race.

By Riël Hauman
(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

When George Ntshiliza won the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon last Easter, he became the first South African since 2007 to do so. If he can win again this Saturday, he will become the first South African since Zithulele Sinqe in 1997 to repeat.

The Cape Town race over a gruelling 56 km route will be held for the 43rd time, while the accompanying half-marathon sees its 15th running (the race always occurs on the Saturday before Easter). The half-marathon, the largest in the country, has again broken all entry records, with just over 16,000 runners entered. The ultramarathon has just over 9000 entrants.

For the first time in the event’s history the top ten men and women in both the ultramarathon and half-marathon will be tested for prohibited substances by Drug Free Sport SA. In previous years random testing of the top ten was done.

In addition to Ntshiliza, the other nine gold medalists (top-10 finishers) of 2011 have all  entered again. The women’s race will be unusual: for the first time since 2006 only one of the Russian Nurgalieva twins will be running. It should be noted that on that occasion Elena, running without the company of her sister, was beaten by Tatyana Zhirkova. This year defending champion Olesya is injured, so Elena will be on her own again.

Five of last year’s top ten women have entered again.

Ntshiliza has concentrated on shorter distances so far in his career and has had a careful build-up to his fourth Two Oceans. He has not raced farther than 25 km this year and scored two wins. He will start as favourite and will be joined by the two South Africans who took the last two gold medals in 2011, Peter Muthubi and Vusi Malobola. The other seven gold medalists were four runners from Lesotho, two from Zimbabwe and one from Malawi.

It seems certain that the four Lesotho stars will again pose a serious challenge. In the 2011 race Motlhokoa Nkhabutlane was only passed by Ntshiliza in the last kilometre and said afterwards that his training had been hampered by a leg injury and that he would be back this year to win. He certainly has the ability, having a marathon personal best of almost two minutes faster than Ntshiliza and having finished in the top four in his last five marathons.

Nkhabutlane’s compatriots in the top six last year were Tsotang Maine (3rd), Moeketsi Mosuhli (4th) and Lebogang Mahloane (6th). The latter, the youngest of the three, had three disastrous runs in the half-marathon before he switched to the ultramarathon last year with great success. He will challenge for a top position again.

Mosuhli was second in 2010 and last year finished second in the Soweto Marathon.

Four other Lesotho athletes should not be discounted: Mabuthile Lebopo won the race in 2010 and was twelfth last year, and then finished seventh in the Soweto Marathon. Teboho Sello was third in 2010 and last year placed sixth in the Soweto Marathon. Lebenya Nkoka finished 30th in the last two Two Oceans, but was third in the 2011 Soweto Marathon (which he won in 2010). Mpesela Ntlotsoeu has run slower than the previous year in each of his three Two Oceans after finishing third in 2009, but will surely aim to redeem himself after last year’s 54th place.

And then there is Stephen Muzhingi. The strong Zimbabwean has proved over the past three years that it is entirely possible to excel in both the Two Oceans and Comrades. He won the latter race in 2009, 2010 and 2011 quite soon after placing fourth, fourth and fifth in the Cape Town ultra. Last year he ran his fastest Two Oceans, 3:09:46, then had a disappointing run in the ING New York City Marathon (where he missed the top athletes bus to the start), but will surely finish in the top five again.

What makes the possibilities for a superb run by Muzhingi even more exciting is that he has eight weeks to recover before the Comrades, whereas he had only five weeks in 2011.

The second Zimbabwean gold medalist in 2011 was Mike Fokoroni, who finished seventh. Since then he has been very quiet and not much is known about his form.  The tenth gold medalist who will be on the starting line is Malawian Henry Moyo. Eighth last year, he has been fifth twice and also won the Nongoma 56 km ultramarathon in 2011.

Which of the South Africans, apart from the three gold medalists already mentioned, can challenge for a top position?

There are quite a few who have the credentials, but the question is whether they can withstand the pressure that the Lesotho runners apply in the second half when the climbing starts, first over Chapmans Peak and then Constantia Nek.

It will be no surprise if Tshidiso Bosiu makes an impact. It will be his first Two Oceans, but he finished ninth in the SA Marathon in February and then won the Vaal Marathon. He has a marathon PB of 2:18:10, run when he won the Soweto Marathon in 2009.

Another runner who will debut and who needs no introduction is Shadrack Hoff, now 38 but one of the best distance runners ever produced in South Africa. He has won seven national titles on the road, and he and Matthews Temane are the only runners ever to have won the national 10 km and half-marathon titles in the same year on two occasions. His 5000-metre SA record on the track has been standing since 1995 and he co-owns the SA record for 15 km on the road. His marathon PB (2:11:51) dates from 2005, but earlier this year he finished second in the Pretoria Marathon.

Zongamele Dyubeni ran his first Two Oceans last year and finished a lowly 645th, but has since won both the Pretoria and Sasol marathons.

Ludwick Mamabolo will celebrate his 35th birthday on Saturday and has an excellent ultramarathon pedigree – he won gold in the Two Oceans in 2009 and was second in the 2010 Comrades and seventh last year. He was sixth in the Johnson Crane Marathon in January.

Two other South Africans who could make their presence felt are Michael Mazibuko, second in the SA Marathon earlier this year, and Bongmusa Mthembu, who has won two golds in the Comrades. Mthembu has never done particularly well in the Two Oceans, but this could be his year.

An unknown factor is 2009 winner John Wachira (KEN), who came back to the race last year but failed to finish. Fellow Kenyan John Chebii, who was second in the Sasol Marathon, has no ultramarathon credentials.

EVEN WITHOUT TWIN SISTER, NURGALIEVA WILL BE HARD TO BEAT

It is generally accepted that the Nurgalieva twins rely heavily on each other’s support and encouragement during the two ultramarathons they run each year. Their phenomenal record speaks for itself: in the Two Oceans they have scored six first and seven second places, while they were third once and fourth once (for a total of 15); in the Comrades their tally reads eight, seven, one and one (total: 17).

Monotonous? Yes, but this writer firmly believes that the business-as-usual situation can be ended if they (or in this case, the single one running) are put under pressure – something the South Africans have almost always declined doing. When this happens, they are vulnerable – as Zhirkova showed in 2006 and in the 2005 Comrades, and Madina Biktagirova and Lilia Yadzhak in the 2007 Two Oceans. In 2004 Marina Bychkova and Farwa Mentoor were able to separate the twins in the Comrades.

Among those who could succeed in 2012 are Zimbabweans Lizih Chokore  and Samukeliso Moyo, who has claimed gold in all four her Two Oceans runs, Mamorallo Tjoka of Lesotho, who was third last year, and South Africans Kerry Koen and Adinda Kruger. Much is expected of Kruger, who had a storming run to finish third in 2010 but then suffered from injury for a long time. She won the Vaal Half Marathon and was third in the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon earlier this year.

Always dependable Mentoor, South Africa’s most consistent ultrarunner of the last decade, could add to her total of nine gold medals.

Two Russians and one Ukrainian, two of whom are novices, also have to be taken into account. Svetlana Semova (RUS) and Svitlana Stanko (UKR) will run their debut, while Natalia Volgina returns to the race for the first time since 2003. In her three attempts so far she was second, first and second and she certainly knows how to knuckle down and race the Two Oceans.

Zola Pieterse may not do as well as Thys in the veteran category – she has Suzette Botha and Maya Lawrie to contend with – and has underplayed her participation in her first ultramarathon, but the former double world cross-country champion and multiple world and SA record setter will surely not come just to jog around the course.

In the half-marathon Lusapho April, South Africa’s fastest marathoner of 2011 (he also topped the lists in the 10 km and 15 km), will defend his title, but not Helalia Johannes in the women’s race (she’s running the Vienna Marathon on April 15).

April’s main rivals will be Xolisa Tyali, second last year, Kalvin Pangiso (ZIM), Luwis Masunda (ZIM), SA cross-country and 5000-metre champion Tshamano Setone, SA 10 km champion Lucky Mohale and Sibusiso Nzima.

Former course record holder René Kalmer was injured last year and finished “only” fourth. Since then Kalmer, the SA half-marathon and 5000-metre champion, has run a brilliant marathon and she will be hard to beat. Her main challenges will come from Irvette van Blerk, second last year, Zintle Xiniwe, third, and Rutendo Nyahora (ZIM), fifth.

The half-marathon course has been changed from that used in previous years (all the changes are in the first half). Among the entrants in both events are 1517 runners from 78 different countries outside South Africa.

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