South African 1-2 in Comrades 2012

4 June 2012

Ludwick Mamabolo delivered South Africa its first Comrades Marathon winner since 2005 on Sunday in Durban when he crossed the finishing line of the 89 kilometre race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban in five hours, 31 minutes and three seconds.

Bongmusa Mthembu made it a South African one-two when he finished just over a minute-and-a-half later, while Lesotho’s Leboka Noto completed the top three finishers.

In the women’s race, Russian star Elena Nurgalieva notched up a record seventh victory and claimed her 10th gold medal as she won in her fastest down time yet, clocking six hours, seven minutes and 12 seconds.

British runner Eleanor Greenwood, fourth in 2011, finished a minute and 12 seconds behind Nurgalieva, while third placed Marina Zhalybina (formerly Bitchkova) was some way back, crossing the line in just short of six hours and 31 minutes.

Remarkable and very satisfying

It was a remarkable and very satisfying win for Mamabolo, who finished runner-up in the 2010 race and seventh in 2011. He had taken three months’ unpaid leave to focus on his preparation for this year’s ultra-marathon and it paid off spectacularly.

“It is a dream come true,” Mamabolo said after securing victory. “It pained me every day when I would look at the papers and see that no South African had been tipped to win.”

The early running was made by South African marathon record holder Gert Thys. Running the event for the first time, he said he wanted not only to win, but to do so in below five hours, which would have shattered the record by over 20 minutes.

A harsh lesson

The Comrades, however, is a tough challenge that has to be respected and Thys was taught a harsh lesson. He had built up an impressive seven-minute lead by the halfway mark, but “blew” at about the 60-kilometre mark and failed to finish the race.

Fourth place went to three-time Two Oceans Marathon winner Marko Mambo of Zimbabwe, who was running the Comrades for the first time.

The record holder in both directions, “up” and “down”, Russia’s Leonid Shvetsov placed fifth in his return to the race, while three-time defending champion Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe managed only sixth place.

Muzhingi had been chasing the double of winning the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades Marathon in the same year, a feat last been achieved in 1974 by Derek Preiss, but came up short. Just how much of a role his effort in winning the Two Oceans played in him not winning the Comrades Marathon was unclear.

Extremely confident

Muzhingi had been extremely confident in the lead-up to the race and had predicted breaking Shvetsov’s “down” run record. He had been driving around in a car with “Stephen Muzhingi – 4 times Comrades Marathon winner” written on the sides but, again, the lesson is that the Comrades Marathon must be respected.

Lesotho’s Lephetesang Adoro finished seventh. He was followed by Gift Kelehe, the brother of 2001 champion Andrew Kelehe.

Claude Moshiywa, third in 2011, placed ninth and Petros Sosibo completed the top 10.

Fusi Nhlapo, the winner in 2003, also on a “down” run, finished eleventh, narrowly missing out on his 10th gold medal.

Women’s top 10

In the women’s race, Scottish runner Joasia Zakrzewski claimed fourth place, with the American Devon Crosby-Helms in fifth.

Pietermaritzburg local Kerry Koen, in sixth place, was the first South African finisher. She had finished eighth in 2011.

Russian Irina Vishnevskaya ended seventh, with Natalia Volgin, the runner-up in 2002 and second place finisher at the Two Oceans Marathon, in third.

South Africans Melanie van Rooyen and Julanie Basson rounded out the top 10.

Impressive achievements

There were some impressive achievements lower down the standings.

Three-time men’s “up” run champion Vladimir Kotov finished 21st at the age of 54, while Alan Robb, a four-time winner between 1976 and 1980, completed his 39th consecutive Comrades despite the passing of his wife only a week before the race.

Nine-time champion Bruce Fordyce, aged 56, completed his 30th Comrades and crossed the finishing line with rookie runner Zola Budd in eight hours, six minutes and nine seconds.

Afterwards, Fordyce said he planned to retire from running the Comrades.

A total of 19 524 runners had entered the race, made up of 15 176 men and 4 348 women.

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