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Stephen Muzhingi confirms he is SA's top ultra marathoner

  • Ultra Marathon
Stephen Muzhingi confirms he is SA's top ultra marathoner

Stephen Muzhingi became only the second runner ever to simultaneously hold both the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades Marathon titles when he crossed a very muddy finish line to win in 03:08:08. The Zimbabwean, a triple Comrades victor, finished fifth in 2011. The previous day at the media conference he warned contenders that he would improve on his 3:09. “Everyone wants to win a race, but I look to improve each year and if people let me win – that’s fine,” said the Bluff Meats Formula One athlete.

Muzhingi was true to his word and ran a perfectly paced race, keeping in the large lead bunch for the early part of the race, which was held in the worst conditions since 2004. The field of just over 9000 runners went head long into rain and wind from 15km and battled their way from Chapman’s Peak down to Hout Bay and through to the marathon mark.

Most contenders were amongst the lead group of ten that went through 42km in 02:20:30, with Lesotho’s Lebenya Nkoka officially listed as the leader. Malawian Henry Moyo, Bongumusa Mthembu, Mthandazo Qhina, Collen Makaza and three-time winner Zimbabwean Marko Mambo jostled for position as they commenced the climb to the Nek. Odwa Tunyiswa was first to crest the hill but national marathon record holder, Gert Thys looked strong in sixth and by the time they past Kirstenbosch main gate Thys was in third behind Muzhingi and Makaza. Turning onto Union Drive Muzhingi pulled away to secure the first back to back Comrades / Two Oceans victory since Derek Preiss in 1974. On that occasion the Westville athlete did Two Oceans in April and Comrades in May.

There were anxious seconds for Muzhingi as he rounded the final corner only to slip to the ground on the mud generated by the 16 000 half marathoners who had finished ahead of him on the rain-drenched UCT fields. Quickly back to his feet, the 36 year old, moved gingerly to the finish line.

“This is all part of my build up to Comrades. I was going for a time, but knew that it was a time good enough for victory,” said Durban based Muzhingi. Malawian Moyo timed his charge well to pass Makaza in the last kilometre for second, while the Zimbabwean hung on to third in 3:08:45 with Gert Thys dropping back to finish fourth in 3:09:41.

Thys, who suffers from a blood sugar condition, had been unable to test his blood level at the marathon mark, which caused him to fade over the final 8km. “I know a record is possible on this course, but the weather conditions were against us today. I congratulate Stephen on his win, but I will be back to race you in Comrades. I am going for the record – five hours is a jogging pace; I promise you I will be taking the fast bus to the finish,” said Thys who will be the fastest marathoner ever to run Comrades when he lines up on 3 June.

The 40 year old failed to finish Two Oceans in 2011, but has multiple top ten finishes in the World Half Marathon Championships and ran both the Atlanta and Athens Olympic marathons.

Although twin sister Olesya withdrew from the race with injury, Elena Nurgalieva had company for the majority of the race from fellow Russian Natalia Volgina, the 2002 winner. "It is always a help to have company and someone to talk to so I want to thank Natalia," said Elena after the race.

The duo went through the marathon mark in a relatively slow time of 02:46:00, with Lesotho’s Mamorallo Tjoka 60 metres adrift and Zimbabwean Samukeliso Moyo in fourth in 02:47:12. As the incline increased, Nurgalieva pulled away to take three and a half minutes from Volgina and securing her fourth Two Oceans victory in 3:41:54, thereby equalling the record of four wins held by Monica Drögemöller.

At the marathon mark, Adinda Kruger was four minutes off the pace in fifth position along side American Devon Crosby-Helms. The more conservative approach paid dividends as they topped out on Constantia Nek. “I followed the advice and held back to Constantia Nek. From there I was able to push. I have long legs and really enjoyed the down,” said Crosby-Helms who moved through to third shifting both Tjoka and Moyo down the ranking by one position.

Kruger was comfortably placed in sixth as the first South African in 03:50:13 with the top ten closed out by Paulina Njeya in 03:53:29.

Xolisa Tyali, Joel Mmone and Lucky Mohale diced out the podium places in a talent laden half marathon earlier in the morning. A record 16 300 runners took to the new course in ideal conditions and there was little quarter given or taken amongst the leaders with Tyali opening only 40 metres on Mmone on the final run in to the finish where he recorded 01:04:54. A similar distance separated Mohale for the final podium position, which was closed in 01:05:09.

Rene Kalmer, who currently has a 2:29 marathon best and is currently South Africa’s fastest women's marathoner, opened a lead shortly after the gun and remained unchallenged to the tape, which she broke in 01:15:02. Her Olympic marathon colleague Irvette van Blerk was second almost 400 metres adrift in 01:16:22 with Zimbabwean Rutendo Nyahora third in 1:18:28.

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