There will again be a strong Lesotho contingent, among them two of the gold medalists of 2012, Tsotang Maine (7th) and Mosuhli, as well as Mabuthile Lebopo, the winner in 2010, Warinyane Lebopo, Lebenya Nkoka, Sekeke Lesolo, Teboho Sello, Motlokoa Nkhabutlane, who was second in 2011 but failed to finish last year, and Mpesela Ntlotsoeu, who had a disastrous race in 2012.
South African marathon record holder Gert Thys led the South Africans in 2012 with his fourth place, course record time of 3:09:42 for veterans (masters) and world best for veterans at 50km of 2:48:39. In typical Thys fashion, he was then brimming with confidence for the Comrades, but could not finish the longer race. Thys has not been racing as much this year as he did before last year’s Two Oceans and also failed to finish the South African Marathon in February.
After the Two Oceans last year, Thys said he would have won were it not for his blood sugar level falling too low in the latter stages of the race (he has had insulin difficulties throughout his career). He is still an exceptional runner — although he tends to be inconsistent — and if he can solve the problem of maintaining his blood sugar level, there is little reason why he cannot finish in the top three.
Other South Africans who can mount a challenge are Bongmusa Mthembu, who finished a mere 34 seconds behind Thys in 2012, Mthandazo Qhina (6th), Nonyana, Tunyiswa (8th) and of course Mamabolo, who was 23rd last year. There is also Vusi Malobola, who won the last gold medal in 2011 and was 13th last year. He finished third in the City to City 50km in 2012 and has not yet reached his potential in the Two Oceans.
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Russia’s Nurgalieva Twins Return
In the women’s race, Russia’s Nurgalieva twins are back together again after Elena had to run without the company of Olesya last year (and scored her fourth victory). She then went on to win the Comrades for the third time in a row. Their amazing streak of dominant performances in South Africa’s two premier ultras now reads as follows: seven first and seven second places in the Two Oceans, and nine wins and seven second places in the Comrades. They have tallied 31 top-three finishes in both races since 2003, having been outside the top three on only two occasions.
Can anyone beat them?
There are only two runners in the field who can match their career-best marathon times: Natalia Volgina (Russia) and Thabita Tsatsa (Zimbabwe). The twins ran their personal bests nine (Elena) and five (Olesya ) years ago, and have not come close to this level again. Tsatsa, now 40, recorded hers in 2008 and Volgina (the fastest marathon runner of the four) got hers in 2006.
Volgina won the Two Oceans in 2002 and returned last year after an absence of nine years to finish second. Tsatsa has never run the Cape Town ultra, but she won the Loskop 50km and Township to Township Marathon last year. She clocked a solid 1:22:50 in a half-marathon at altitude earlier this year.
The Nurgalievas’ track record makes them the favorites, but they have been shown to be vulnerable in the past when put under pressure for an extended period of time. This seems to be the only way to beat them.
Tsatsa, her country’s marathon record holder with a 2:29:20, certainly has the credentials to challenge the twins — and so does Volgina, who is four years younger than the Zimbabwean.