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Wachira Returning To Two Oceans Marathon

The race is South Africa’s second largest ultramarathon.

Written By: Riël Hauman
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

John Wachira, not unknown any longer, will be back on Easter Saturday to defend his Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon title. The Kenyan came out of the blue last year to win South Africa’s second largest ultramarathon on his first attempt, denying Marco Mambo a historic fourth win.

The Cape Town race over 56 km will be held for the 41st time, while the accompanying half-marathon sees its 13th running. Close to 21,000 runners are expected to line up for the two races. Ultra entries are well up on last year with just under 9000 runners taking up the challenge of the gruelling course, while the half-marathon has attracted a field of just over 11,600.

Of last year’s top ten men in the ultra, eight have re-entered. In the women’s race, all of the top ten women from last year will be on the starting line again.

Although Wachira had been seventh in the 2008 City to City 50 km, he came to the 2009 Two Oceans as a virtual unknown. He ran in the pack for most of the race, “just relaxing,” as he put it in a post-race interview. He took the lead from Mambo with a mere 2 km remaining and won, steadily pulling away from the struggling Zimbabwean, in 3:10:06.

Mambo, who aimed to become the first man in the history of the Two Oceans to win four times, made a tactical mistake by running down Chapman’s Peak too fast and then his woes were compounded by a sore heel which severely hampered his running after 50 km. He finished 46 seconds behind Wachira.

After the race Mambo said he would be back this year to get the fourth victory. He certainly has the ability – he has, after all, run the fourth fastest time ever – but he failed to finish his first Comrades last year (as he also did in the 2006 and 2007 Two Oceans) and it may just be that the younger runners will prove to be too good.  Among them, apart from Wachira, are Modibe Mamabolo (7th last year), Melikhaya Sithuba (9th), Prodigal Khumalo (13th), Mzwanele Maphekula (14th) and Mabule Raphotle (16th).

Mamabolo was second in the Johnson Crane Marathon earlier this year, but also ran the Om die Dam 50 km at altitude just two weeks before the Two Oceans. It is hardly likely that he will have recovered sufficiently when he lines up in Cape Town.

Sithuba was third in the Buffs Marathon a month ago. This downhill marathon was won by Khumalo – one of the four wins he has scored in 2010. Khumalo did not finish the Comrades last year.  Maphekula has concentrated on shorter distances this year after he had been fourth in the 2009 SA Marathon. He was second behind Mambo in the 2008 Two Oceans.   Raphotle was another nonfinisher in the 2009 Comrades, but won the Bruce Fordyce 50 km last year.

And then there is Comrades champion Stephen Muzhingi, the Zimbabwean who finished fourth in 2009 in his third Two Oceans (he was eighth the previous year). He proved that he could run well in both ultras – and this year there are two extra weeks between them. The chances are therefore very good that the tough Muzhingi, who is 34, could decide to go all out to win both races.

A runner who is a year older than Mambo but who could be among the gold medalists again is Butiki Jantjies. He was sixth in 2009 and so far this year he has won the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon in 2:25:23. Jantjies is an accomplished ultrarunner with second in the Om die Dam race and eighth in the City to City in 2009 to his credit.

Two other runners with solid Two Oceans credentials are Peter Muthubi and Sipho Ngomane. Muthubi has run mostly half-marathons in 2010, including a third place in the Vaal Half-marathon in 64:07. In his two previous Two Oceans outings he was seventh in 2008 and 23rd in 2009. He was also fourth in last year’s City to City. Ngomane, the 2005 Comrades champion, has finished second, third, seventh and tenth in his last four Two Oceans and nobody would bet against him getting another gold medal.

At least seven other runners have the talent to fight for a place in the top ten, or even a win. The most familiar figure among them is 1996 Olympic marathon champion Josiah Thugwane, now 38. In his only two visits to the Two Oceans he finished second in 2007 and failed to finish in 2008. Earlier this year he was sixth in the Pretoria Marathon in 2:36:15; last year he won the aided Loskop 50 km.

An interesting entrant is Aaron Gabonewe (32), who is trying the ultramarathon for the first time (he has been fifth twice and also third in the half-marathon). He was second behind Jantjies in the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon and could spring a surprise.

The other five are Johannes Kekana, who has a marathon PB of 2:14:37 and was 17th in the World Championships Marathon in Berlin (as well as second in the SA Marathon last year); George Mofokeng, who would certainly like to make amends for his DNF in the Two Oceans in 2009 and who won the difficult Sunrise Monster 32 km race in the middle of March (as he did the Cape Town City Marathon last year, in 2:14:20); 2006 winner Moses Njodzi, who did not finish in 2008 and was a lowly 55th last year; Lebenya Nkoka, who was eighth in the Soweto Marathon towards the end of 2009 and this year finished fifth in the Pick ‘n Pay Half-marathon; and George Ntshiliza, who was 40th in his first Two Oceans last year and has won five short-distance races this year, as well as finished second in the Friendly City Marathon.

To repeat what I wrote last year: the women’s winner will almost certainly be called Nurgalieva, but which one of the twins it will be this time is anyone’s guess. In 2009 they finished hand in hand, but the judges gave the win to Elena. Their time (3:40:43) was the slowest either of them has run in their combined eleven appearances. The twins’ record in the Two Oceans is: Elena – 1st in 2004, 2005 and 2009, 2nd in 2006 and 2008, 3rd in 2007; Olesya – 1st in 2008, 2nd in 2004, 2005 and 2009, 4th in 2007.

Their toughest challenge should come from an absentee in 2009 and the eight women who finished behind them, with four of them over 40: Joanna Thomas, Jane Mudau, Ursula Frans and Maya Lawrie, who filled positions seventh to tenth. Thomas is concentrating on the Comrades, but like Muzhingi in the men’s race she could also race hard here.

The South African challenge will probably be led by Riana van Niekerk, who did not run last year after being the first South African in 2008 (fifth in 3:53:09), Farwa Mentoor and Adinda Kruger. Van Niekerk has had a quiet year so far (at least by her prolific racing standards) – she won the Pick ‘n Pay Marathon (2:59:23) and was third in the Pretoria Marathon (2:59:44). She failed to finish last year’s Comrades.

Mentoor has never run to her potential in the Two Oceans, mainly because her main focus has always been the Comrades – where she has been the leading local runner in seven races out of eight. She was fourth in the 2009 Two Oceans and this year won the Bay to Bay 30 km and finished second in the Peninsula Marathon.

Kruger has also not yet fulfilled her promise in the Cape Town ultra, although she was fifth in the slow race last year. She has already run two marathons and two 32 km races in 2010, including the Sasol Marathon (third in 2:55:52).

Other contenders are Zimbabwean Samukeliso Moyo (third in 2009) and Louisa Leballo, who has not run the Two Oceans since 2007 (when she failed to finish).

In the half-marathon Stephen Mokoka will not defend his title and neither will course record holder Helalia Johannes. Among the favourites in the men’s race are Lungisa Mdedelwa, Coolboy Ngamole and Tshamano Setone. Track standout René Kalmer is the athlete to watch in the women’s race, with foreign visitors Mamorallo Tjoka and Thabita Tsatsa her main rivals. Irvette van Blerk should be the second South African.

The top prize in the ultramarathon is R150,000 (USD 20,250) for both men and women, with a bonus of R50,000 (USD 6750) for breaking the course records (3:03:44 for men and 3:30:36 for women). First prize in the half-marathon is R20,000 (USD 2700).

Some interesting statistics on the ultramarathon: 74% of the field are men, with 34% of the field doing the race for the first time. A total of 1107 runners are from outside the borders of South Africa, with 108 coming from the USA.

Among the special runners are former long-time race director Chet Sainsbury, who will take part for the 29th time, Noel Stamper (70), who has missed only one race, and Cyril Niit, who has achieved an unprecedented 25 silver medals (sub-4 hours) in 25 starts.