Zimbabwean's second Comrades win
31 May 2010
Zimbabwe's Stephen Muzhingi won the Comrades Marathon for the second time running as a huge field contested the 85th edition of South Africa's famous ultra-marathon on Sunday. Victory in the women's race went to Elena Nurgalieva for a fifth time.
Over 23 000 entries had been received for the event, and it showed on the road as, especially in the earlier stages of the race, a thick, winding sea of colour bobbed along the route.
With the race taking place a little earlier in the year than usual, the weather was ideal: not as cold for the 05:30 start as would be the case in the middle of June, yet retaining enough of a bite in the early and late going to help cool the competitors.
The runners were well supported by hordes of spectators who made a day of it by packing picnics, and shouting their support from the side of the road.
Due to the size of the massive field, the race was once again a "down" run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, so that everyone could be accommodated at the finish. With half the field usually finishing in the last hour-and-a-half, it was a necessary move.
It was also a decision that helped improve Muzhingi's chances of repeating as champion as the race has revealed over the years that the "down" and "up" runs present very different challenges.
Interestingly, as part of his preparation, the Zimbabwean had chose to run the 56-kilometre Two Oceans Marathon at Easter, as he had done last year.
Some experts believe that running a competitive race in the Two Oceans before contesting the Comrades has a negative effect on a runner's chances in the latter event. Yet Muzhingi finished fourth in the Two Oceans in 2009 and repeated that result in 2010 before going on to victory in the Pietermaritzburg to Durban epic.
The first half of the race was difficult for Muzhingi, who was running in the colours of the Formula 1 Bluff Meats Athletics Club. He was much stronger over the second half, however, and took over the lead when he passed Claude Moshiywa with about 20 kilometres to go.
World Cup-like atmosphere
Receiving strong support from the spectators along the race route, Muzhingi went on to win in five hours, 29 minutes and one second for the 89.28 kilometre distance, which was 110 metres longer than 2009's race. In a World Cup-like atmosphere, he was greeted at the finish at Sahara Stadium Kingsmead in Durban by the blasting of vuvuzelas.
"There was too much pressure on me to win," he gasped after securing victory.
South Africa's Ludwick Mamabalo finished in second place, over six minutes behind the winner, in 5:35:28. Another South African, Sergio Motsoeneng, claimed third, in 5:35:57.
It was, in fact, a good year for local athletes, who claimed eight of the top 10 places. Besides Muzhingi, the only other foreign runner in the top 10 was Lesotho's Leboka Noto, running for Mr Price, who finished in tenth place.
The Comrades respects no one and it showed its teeth to American hope Josh Cox, the US record holder over 50 kilometres. He went through halfway in 50th place, but was struggling with a stomach problem and that ultimately dropped him down to 186th at the finish in a time of 6:51:29.
The women's race followed a more predictable storyline as the Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, fought it out for the victory. Olesya was the defending the title she won in 2009, while Elena had previously won the race in 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008.
They ran together for most of the race and opened up a comfortable lead over their nearest challenger. Near the end, Elena managed a small break away from her sister and she crossed the finishing line in first place in six hours, 13 minutes and three seconds. Olesya finished only one second later.
Marina Myshlyanova completed a Russian 1-2-3 when she finished in 6:26:02. American Kami Semick claimed fourth, almost five minutes later, in 6:32:54.
The leading South African runner, in fifth place in 6:38:40, was Farwa Mentoor.
At the other end of the field, Frikkie Botha, running his 28th Comrades, was the last man to make it across the finishing line before the cut-off gun was fired at 17:30.
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