By Reggie Hufkie
Defending Sanlam Cape Town Marathon winner Asefa Negewo of Ethiopia will have to overcome strong South African and Kenyan threats if he looks to defend his title on Sunday.
Last year, Negewo stormed to victory in a record time of 2hr 08min 42sec, the fastest marathon ever on South African soil. Seven months later, at the Virgin Money London Marathon, he faded to a respectable 2:10:04 after going through the first 30km in 1:28:42.
Perhaps he tried a different tactic that unfortunately did not work? Needless to say, he arrived in Cape Town as the second-fastest man on paper behind Laban Mutai of Kenya.
Mutai cruised to a 2:08:01 personal best victory at the Koln Marathon in 2012. Two years later at the Linz Marathon he missed out on his personal best by two seconds, stopping the clock on 2:08:03.
And in late 2015, he recorded a credible 2:09:55.
The 31-year-old Kenyan poses a serious threat to Negewo, and so too does the South African duo, Elroy Gelant and the new kid on the block, Melikhaya Frans.
Running together for most of the race at the ASA Half Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth in June, Olympian Gelant and Stephen Mokoka (the eventual winner) broke away, leaving Frans trailing in third, but clocking a lifetime best of 1:01:58.
Gelant, meanwhile, finished second in 1:01:30. They are set to make big marathon debuts when the pistol sounds on Beach Road on Sunda,y while fellow South Africans, 2017 Two Oceans Marathon winner Lungile Gongqa (2:11:59), Gladwin Mzazi (2:17:43) and Xolisa Xali (2:14:26) are also looking to leave their mark, but who will play the best cards on the day?
Perhaps Samual Maswai? With a 2:08:51 to his name, Maswai is the third-fastest in the field and one of the five men to dip under that magical 2:10 barrier. But what if Seboko Niguse of Ethiopia runs faster than his 2:09:14 lifetime best? Then it is all about who plays the best cards on the road…
The five South African and three Kenyan athletes are forces to be reckoned with, but it doesn’t mean that the reigning Ethiopian is ready to surrender.
Meanwhile, Cape Town-based British athlete and defending champion Trish Jones will not line up to defend her title, after the organisers confirmed her withdrawal.
That means that one of the five women with faster times (on paper) than she could take over the reins.
Last year Jones made a name for herself by breaking the now renamed IAAF Gold Label Road Race’s tape, and since then she has gone on to win a number of races.
Clocking a 32:58 personal best to win the Spar Women’s Grand Prix in Durban, after a 12km Cape Town OneRun victory means only one thing: Jones is faster.
But despite running a new 2:33:56 personal best at the Virgin Money London Marathon in April, Jones will not line up to defend her title, therefore opening the doors for a new champion to be crowned.
Kenyans Agnes Kiprop and Doris Changeywo, Ethiopians Betelhem Moges and Fantu Eticha and South Africa’s Irvette van Zyl are all serious contenders, and rightfully so.
Kiprop, the 2017 Ottawa Marathon bronze medallist, landed in Cape Town with a 2:29:54 season’s best.
Although six minutes shy of her 2:23:54 best set at the 2011 Frankfurt Marathon, she finds herself in resurgent shape.
But having won her last international outing in Prague in 2012, a victory in the Cape would be welcomed with open arms.
Joining the seasoned marathoner, meanwhile, is fellow Kenyan Doris Changeywo, who looks to go better than her current 2:31:50 personal best. If the East African duo makes use of sound tactics and teamwork, they could be the women to beat on the day.
Betelhem Moges and Fantu Eticha of Ethiopia, though, will also have a say. After clocking a 2:24:29 lifetime-best in January 2015, Moges went on to win the Beijing International Marathon the same year, breaking the tape in 2:27:31.
Retaining her form, she ran the Hong Kong Marathon in 2:33:48 in February 2017 to take the second position, but while the youngest athlete in the elite field enjoyed a busy schedule in 2016 and 2017, 30-year-old Eticha joins the field with a 2:26:53 that she ran at last year’s Xiamen Marathon in China.
Like their fellow East Africans, these two women are in the hot seats.
But Irvette van Zyl leads the South African contingent with her 2:31:26, and if she ‘pitches up on the day’, we might be in for a South African treat.
Yes, her withdrawal from the 2016 Olympic and world championships marathon teams (due to injuries) were discouraging, but she is back on her feet and running fast.
After clocking a fine 1:12:36 half-marathon at the start of the year, a roller-coaster track and road season followed and almost ended her career, but she persevered.
The Pretoria-based athlete leads a South African charge consisting of the Olympic marathoner Lebogang Phalula, 2017 South African half marathon champion Cornelia Joubert and seasoned marathoner Ntombesintu Mfunzi.
Western Province Athletics’ Zintle Xiniwe lines up for her umpteenth 42.2km, whereas Maria Shai makes her debut.
We now know for sure a new champion will be crowned. If only we already knew who…
Hufkie is a Cape Town-based freelance sports journalist