With prize money upped by close to 50% at this year’s Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon the events have enticed a number of top local and international athletes to compete for line honours on Saturday.
Eight of last year’s top 10 men have entered, including the leading Lesotho trio of last year’s winner Mabhutile Lebopo, runner-up Moeketsi Mosuhli and third placed Teboho Sello. The 2010 event saw a total domination by the tiny mountain kingdom and they’re back to try the same again this year.
Joining the fray is two-time Comrades Marathon winner Stephen Muzhingi, who placed fourth at Oceans last year. Mabhutile’s brother Warinyane has also confirmed his entry and h e was fifth last year. Other runners to watch include Kenyans Chebbi Kemboi, who has a marathon best of 2hr 12min and Kipkemoi Kiplimo.
The top male and female runners in the 56km ultra event each take home R250 000 for their efforts and the new prize money schedule makes it one of the highest paying ultra events in the country and offering top runners a real incentive to focus on winning the event this year.
In the women’s ultra event, seven of last year’s top 10 have confirmed their entries, including the Nurgalieva twins of Russia who will have some tough competition this year in the form of previous winners Simone Staicu of Hungary who won back in 2003 and Madina Biktagirova who was the oldest winner of the event — in 2007 at age 42.
Another Russian, Marina Myshlyanova, who was third at Comrades last year, has also entered the ultra.┬áFlying the South African flag will be Riana van Niekerk (sixth in 2010), the ever dependent Farwa Mentoor, Joanna Thomas (seventh in 2010) and Gladys Lukhwareni, who makes a return to road running after a two-year ban for taking an illegal substance. Then there’s Mamorallo Tjoka who placed third in the Two Oceans half marathon last year, and she’ll be running the ultra for only the second time.
ÔÇ£The increase in prize money will hopefully provide the top runners with the incentive to focus on winning the ultra, as well as encouraging them to have a serious attempt at the respective course records, which were set over 20 years ago,ÔÇØ added Rowyn James, race director. Those records belong to the late Thompson Magawana (3:03:44) and Frith van der Merwe (3:30:36) and set in 1988 and 1989 respectively.
James added that while the prize money has always been considered generous, they wanted to take it to the next level in order to attract some of road running’s top names. The second and third place male and female runners will each receive R125 000 and R65┬á000. Total prize money on offer for the event is just under R1.5-million. Last year’s first prize winners received R150 000, second place R75┬á000 and third R50┬á000.
Lusapho April is back to defend his title in the half-marathon but will have his work cut out for him from the likes of previous winner Luwis Masunda, Sibusiso Nzema and Xoliswa Twali. Kenyan Daniel Yegon could also pose a threat to April’s title defence. Multi-talented Stephen Mokoka was on the original entry list but pulled out last week as he has decided to run in Japan.
The women’s half-marathon will also be an exciting one to watch as five of the top 10 from last year will be at the start line, including defending champion and course record holder Rene Kalmer and second placed Irvette van Blerk, both of whom are running exceptionally well. Kalmer, training for her international marathon debut next month, recently won the 5000m title at the national track and field championships and won the Cape Town leg of the Spar women’s 10km race the very next day. There’s no doubting her form right now. Past winners Charn├® Bosman and Halalia Johannes of Namibia will also provide some tough competition, together with Irene’s Annerine van Schalkwyk.
A record field of close to 23 000 runners are expected to line up on Saturday, with just over 14┬á000 taking part in the half-marathon ÔÇô the biggest field in the event’s history. The ultra has also attracted a large field of just under 9 000, not a record field but certainly one of the biggest fields to date.