Russians rule Comrades 2006
19 June 2006
Russian athletes continue to dominate South Africa's world-famous ultra-marathon. Russian Oleg Kharitonov broke the stranglehold of three-time "up-run" champion Vladimir Kotov to claim his first Comrades Marathon title on Friday. His compatriot, Elena Nurgalieva, won the women's title for the third time.
It was Kharitonov's sixth attempt to win the prestigious event. After a twelfth-place finish in his first effort in 2001, he captured fourth, second, third and second in the following years.
Nurgalieva, meanwhile, after a third-place finish in 2005, on the back of successive victories in 2003 and 2004, turned in a powerful performance to win the race in a record up-run time of 6:09:23, bettering the record she set the last time the race was run from Durban up to Pietermaritzburg two minutes and 22 seconds.
Helped by slow pace
Kharitonov felt the slow pace of the men's race played into his hands. Nearing Pietermaritzburg, when he noticed Kotov tiring at Polly Shorts, along with a few of the other challengers, he made the move that won him the race.
"I knew then that I had a chance," he said.
South Africa took second as novice Brian Zondi turned in an astonishing performance to finish in 5:37:31. Kotov had to settle for third.
For Zondi, it was an effort that was well rewarded financially. He won R100 000 for his runner-up finish, learned that his club, Harmony Gold, would pay him R175 000, and also claimed a 25-ounce gold statuette.
Inexperience could have cost victory
After the race, Zondi admitted he knew little about the route. That inexperience might have cost him victory because the infamous Polly Shorts took its toll on him as he fell behind the more experienced Kharitonov. By the top of the ascent, the Russian had opened up a gap too big to bridge.
For Kotov, now aged 48, he said not being able to successfully defend the title did not spell the end of his association with the Comrades Marathon. He congratulated the two men who beat him, but felt that he too had run well.
Russia's Grigory Murzin took fourth, followed by former down-run winner Fusi Nhlapo. Then followed 1999 champion Jaroslaw Janicki, with South Africans Andrew Kelehe, Mncedisi Mkhize, Frans Chauke and Leboka Noto completing the top 10.
The top three positions in the women's race belonged to Russians as Marina Bychkova finished runner-up on the up-run for the second time in succession, and Tatyana Zhirkova took third almost 15 minutes adrift of Nurgalieva.
It was a huge payday for Nurgalieva, who was formerly a cross-country skier. She earned R1.25-million for her victory: R500 000 from her sponsors Mister Price, another R500 000 for breaking the record, R200 000 for winning the race, and R50 000 from her shoe sponsors for setting a new record.
Maria Bak, a former three-time winner of the race, was a late entrant, but made her decision to run count as she finished fourth.
First South African
An exhausted Farwa Mentoor was the first South African home, crossing the line in fifth place after having to crawl the last 20 metres to the finish.
Yolande McLean picked up her fourth top-10 finish in a row, ending in sixth position, a personal best. Following her were a quartet of South Africans to complete the top 10: Riana van Niekerk, Madeleen Otto, Grace de Oliviera and Lindsay van Aswegan.
A financial consultant from Heidelberg, Paul Dolman, made history by becoming the first cystic fibrosis patient to complete the race.
Despite less than half his lungs working, and despite having a hole in his heart, Dolman finished the event in 11 hours and 53 minutes.
"Having a terminal illness takes a lot out of you, but it doesn't mean that you stop living," he said afterwards. Dolman has on numerous occasions been told by doctors that he hasn't long to live.