Proudly South Africans Bongmusa Mthembu and Gerda Steyn triumphed at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon earlier today as the much-vaunted Kenyan challenge dissipated in the mist between Ou Kaapse Weg and Kirstenbosch.
Over 11 000 runners made use of ideal running conditions and an extended cut-off to complete the ultra-marathon over Ou Kaapse Weg while 14 483 completed the half marathon.
Three times Comrades Marathon champion, Mthembu ran down Ethiopian Sintayehu Legese Yinesa just 4km from the finish to race to a superb victory in 3 hrs 08 min 39 sec – the fastest time since Stephen Muzhingi’s win in 2012 and the fastest ever on the Ou Kaapse Weg course – but Steyn stole the show with a display of ultra-distance running not seen in South Africa since the heady days of Frith van Der Merwe at her peak.
Steyn crossed the finish line in 3:31:28 – just 44 seconds outside Van der Merwe’s race record, which has stood for thirty years. Many had thought it would stand for another thirty, but not anymore. “I’ll definitely be back next year for the record,” said Steyn after her run, and few who witnessed the manner of her victory doubt that she can do it.
Given that the times over Ou Kaapse Weg are regarded as a minute or two slower than those on the Chappies route and that Van Der Merwe ended her race in Brookside, Claremont, Steyn’s performance compares favourably with Van der Merwe’s.
Fresh as a daisy, Steyn took time – arguably another 15 seconds – to high five spectators who were cheering her on to the finish.
“That was fantastic – the race went exactly as planned. It could not have been any better,” Steyn reflected. “I felt good the whole way and really enjoyed the climb up Ou Kaapse Weg. It was a great race in every way. I was not going for the record, and at 50km I realised it was not really on, so I backed off a bit.
“The record will still be around in the future and when the time is right, I would love to go for it. Today was just about defending my title and enjoyed the race, and that’s how it worked out.”
Kenyan Priscilla Lorchima had taken an early lead, with Steyn and Van Zyl drawing level approaching Fish Hoek at 20km. Lorchima fell behind, with Lesotho athlete, Mamorallo Tjoka, taking her place and the three crossed the mist-covered Ou Kaapse Weg in close formation.
Van Zyl fell off the pace shortly after the steep descent with Tjoka finally succumbing to yet another Steyn surge shortly before the standard marathon, which Steyn reached in 2hrs 40 min. Thereafter there was only going to be one winner, as Steyn sped home to a 7-minute victory in the second-fastest time in Two Oceans history.
A dispirited Van Zyl finished third in 3:41:27 – a fine ultra-marathon debut but short of what Van Zyl had hoped for – with Polish athlete, Dominika Stelmach, and Durban athlete Jenna Challenor rounding out the top five.
Back to the men, with the Pietermaritzburg athlete, Mthembu, delighted with his win and triumph over the foreign athletes. “I planned to run consistently and kept something in the bag for the final stages,” Mthembu confessed. “I knew the Kenyans were going for the record and let them go as I thought they would probably pay for their fast pace.
“It was a great victory for South Africa. It’s fantastic that top races like the Two Oceans draws the best ultra-distance athletes on the continent to compete and that we can show that we can match the guys from the north. It was a great feeling to come past the Kenyans and Ethiopians in the final quarter of the race.
“Two Oceans is a great race in its own right and I’m proud to hold the title. I’m a professional athlete and must be able to recover in time for Comrades Marathon. But my goal today was on Two Oceans and I’m delighted to have finally won it.”
Mthembu, who bases himself in the Lesotho highlands for much of his training, has now completed nine Two Oceans ultras, including four top-ten gold medals, his previous best of 3:10:16 coming in 2012, when he finished 5th, as he did last year.
As promised, the Kenyans went out fast and were well inside record pace as Isaac Kiprorir led compatriots Abraham Kiprotich and Justin Chesire Kemboi through 10km in 31:54 – over a minute clear of the following pack.
2:08 marathoner, Kiprotich, dropped his compatriots in the approach to Ou Kaapse Weg, and was left to climb solo up the 7km slog to the summit at Silvermine. Still running strongly, Kiprotich held a two minute lead on former winner, Lebanya Nkoka from Lesotho and Ethiopian Wondwosen Ketema shortly after the summit.
Kiprotich held on through 41km in 2:15:57, before fast-running Yinesa powered into the lead soon after, reaching the marathon mark in 2:19:31 and looking every inch a winner.
But it was not to be as the Ethiopian tired dramatically after summiting Southern Cross Drive as Mthembu and 2013 winner, David Gatebe, ran down their rival and race clear to the finish, with Gatebe taking second place 1 min 50 sec in arrears.
South Africa were shut out in the half marathon, with Lesotho’s Khoarahlane Seutlaou racing home in record time in 1:02:09 and Namibia’s Helalia Johannes destroying the previous women’s mark by over two minutes, winning in 1:10:30 in another extraordinary performance.
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