All Eyes On Mamabolo At Comrades Marathon

Ludwick Mamabolo won the 2012 edition of the Comrades Marathon, but was then caught doping. He's since been cleared. Photo: Sport 24

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Nurgalieva Twins Favored In Women’s Race

In the last 10 years the Russian Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, have only both been beaten in the same race once, in 2005, when Tatyana Zhirkova won. Elena has seven victories and Olesya owns two.

In the Two Oceans, after suffering from the flu in the run-up to the race, they were both beaten in the same race for the second time (Madina Biktagirova and Lilia Yadzhak also did it in 2007); in fact, Elena was fourth and Olesya took 12th. Of course, these positions may still change if the winner, Natalia Volgina, is disqualified after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

Five of their main rivals are not even going to make it to the starting line: Eleanor Greenwood (Great Britain, second last year), Devon Yanko (U.S., fifth) and Emma Gooderham (Great Britain, 11th) have withdrawn, as have Kami Semick (U.S., third in 2011) and Lizzy Hawker (Great Britain, seventh).

Marina Zhalybina (Russia) will be there, as will Joasia Zakrzewski (Great Britain). Zhalybina (formerly Bychkova) has a remarkable record in the Comrades. Since finishing third in her first race in 1999, she has been out of the top five only twice in 12 attempts (apart from not finishing in 2007) and was the runner up twice (2004 and 2006).

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Zakrzewski had a splendid 2011, when she finished second in the World 100km Championships, finishing in 7:41:06, and third in the IAU World Trophy 50km, and then followed this in 2012 with fourth in the Comrades (6:33:41). That race was won by Elena Nurgalieva in 6:07:12, who competed without the company of her sister.

Apart from Elena, Zhalybina (third) and Zakrzewski, three of last year’s gold medalists will contest the race again: Kerry Koen (sixth), Melanie van Rooyen (ninth) and Julanie Basson (10th). The trio were the only South Africans in the top 10.

Among the South African favorites this year is Lindsay van Aswegen, who last ran in 2010 and finished seventh. She was also eighth in 2009 (both “down” runs). Van Aswegen, a former national marathon champion, produced the highlight of her career so far in 2011 when she took third in the World 100km, just behind Zakrzewski. Her 7:42:05 in that race in Winschoten places her third on the South African all-time list.

Koen was ninth in Winschoten, the same position she earned in the last Comrades “up” run. Both she and Basson, who won the Slow-Mag 50km and was fifth in the Om die Dam 50km, could be in the top 10 again.

But all gold medal contenders will have to watch two relatively inexperienced ultrarunners. Zimbabwean Thabita Tsatsa, now 40, may yet be declared the winner of the Two Oceans (she was second across the line behind Volgina), a race she ran for the first time. Tsatsa, the second fastest marathon runner in the field and her country’s record holder, set a course record in the only other ultramarathon she has run, the Loskop 50km last year. She collected a number of age category wins in shorter races earlier this year.

Many South African pundits think the first local runner may well be Charné Bosman who has, like Tsatsa, run only two ultras: last year’s City to City 50km (she was second) and this year’s Two Oceans (she may end up second and was less than two minutes behind Volgina). Bosman, who has won the South Africa Marathon three times and took the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon earlier this year, would have gained much confidence from her come-from-behind success in the Two Oceans and although she now has to run 30km farther, she is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Other challengers include Lesley Train, Tshifhiwa Mundalamo, Salome Cooper, Riana van Niekerk and Caroline Wostmann.

And last but not least there is Zola Pieterse. The former track star, who still owns 12 South African records and now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., made her ultra debut last year in the Two Oceans and then finished the Comrades in an untroubled 37th in 8:06:09. This year she ran the Two Oceans Half-Marathon. Pieterse, who turned 47 on Sunday, says her goal is a silver medal (sub-7:30). That should give her a place in the top 20.

The first prize for both men and women is what amounts to be about $30,000; this would be doubled for breaking the course record (Shvetsov’s 5:24:47 and Elena Nurgalieva’s 6:09:24).

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