Tete Dijana and Gerda Steyn tipped as weekend’s Comrades Marathon favourites
One men’s and one women’s winner will emerge from a crowd of nearly 18,000 athletes on Sunday with the two local athletes seen as front runners.
Nearly 18,000 participants are expected at the starting line of the Comrades Marathon on Sunday. While everyone at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall has trained excessively to prepare for the race, only around 20 men and 20 women are in a realistic position to vie for the number one spot in their respective races.
In the men’s section, last year’s champion, Tete Dijana is a favourite to retain his title, but he will face fierce competition, not least from the members of his Nedbank Running Club.
“I’m feeling positive. We’ve done what it takes to prepare for the big day,” said Dijana.
“This year we had more time to get ready and I’m well prepared to tackle the race. I’m going into the race in perfect condition.”
Edward Mothibi, Dan Matshailwe, Johannes Makgetla and Joseph Manyedi and Onalenna Khonkhobe — Dijana’s teammates — will likely be hot on Dijana’s heels, as they were last year when the Nedbank Running Club men from North West finished all finish in the top seven — only separated by three-time winner Bongmusa Mthembu (fourth) and Nkosikhona Mhlakwana (sixth).
Based on Dijana’s 2:39.04 run at this year’s Nedbank Runified 50km in February — faster than the official World 50km record by Stephen Mokoka of 2:40.13 — Dijana is in better shape than he was in 2022.
Last year’s runner-up, Edward Mothibi has an impressive Comrades Marathon record, having claimed the last first-place finish — in 2019 — before the Covid-19 pandemic halted the event for two years.
Mothibi is well known for his systematic approach to racing. In 2019 the year he won the Comrades, he only placed 95th at the Two Oceans Marathon two months prior.
Mothibi was clearly racing on fresher legs than his fellow runners. While this year he didn’t compete in the Two Oceans at all, so his legs could not be any fresher, the only worry at this point would be if he is undercooked for the big event.
Last year’s fourth-placed finisher, Bongmusa Mthembu was dubbed the greatest ultramarathoner in the world in 2018 – by virtue of his fifth-place in the Two Oceans, third at the World 100km Championships and his win in the 2018 Comrades Marathon.
The 39-year-old has featured in the top ten at Comrades on nine of his last 11 runs; and on the podium seven times, with three wins.
Nkosikhona Mhlakwana (sixth in 2022), Dan Matshailwe (third in 2022), and Joseph Manyedi (seventh in 2022) are the other big fish to look out for in the men’s race on Sunday.
Having already clocked the Up Run record in 2019, all eyes will be on South African running darling Gerda Steyn on Sunday — especially with the Down Race reduced by 2.2kms this year.
Frith van der Merwe’s long-standing record of 5:54:43 set in 1988 is in grave danger.
“I honestly think Gerda can break my record,” Van der Merwe said recently.
“I’ve always said that anyone who goes into those races with a better marathon personal best than mine has a chance to break it. And back then I had a 2:27 and Gerda has a 2:25 [now]. She will break my record. My advice to her is that she must just run her normal race.”
Steyn missed the 2022 race as she was focusing on the New York Marathon which was only 3 months after Comrades in August last year.
If Steyn does break the record on Sunday, it will be the second time in two years that she breaks one of Van der Merwe’s records. Last year she broke her 33-year-old Two Oceans record time — and then bettered her own record this year.
Steyn is in formidable form.
Last year’s winner, Alexandra Morozova will be keen to retain her title. Morozova has been a consistent top finisher in the Comrades Marathon, finishing second in 2017 and 2019 with a third-placed finish wedged in between in 2018.
Her time of 6:17:48 in 2022 was well managed as she allowed the less experienced runners of Adele Broodryk and Dominika Stelmach go ahead in the first half of the race before catching up and completing the win in the second half.
Morozova will be playing a dangerous game this year if she allows Steyn similar freedom.
Ann Ashworth is expected to be close on the heels, if not ahead of the likes of Steyn and Morozova.
Ashworth took the Comrades title in 2018 with a rapid time of 6:10:04, more than seven minutes faster than last year’s winning time. The former Durban local knows the route better than most and will undoubtedly be sniffing an opportunity to claim another Comrades Marathon win.
Meanwhile, last year’s second- and third-placed women, Stelmach and Broodryk, will be trying to correct their minor mistakes of last year and cross the finish line ahead of their favoured opponents at Kingsmead Cricket Stadium on Sunday. DM