MARITZBURG — Most of the talk around the running of the 87th Comrades Marathon tomorrow has focused on the tough-as-nails defending champion from Zimbabwe — although, as usual, there are a number of serious contenders for the title.
The South African ultra-marathon, the world’s largest, is a “down” run this year from Pietermaritzburg (670m above sea level) to coastal Durban. The distance will be 89.28 km, the same as it was in 2010.
“It” in the first sentence refers to two sides of the same coin: If Muzhingi wins again, he will be the first runner since Bruce Fordyce in 1988 to take four titles in a row. (Fordyce, of course, won eight in succession.)
And he will be the first male runner since Derek Preiss in 1975 to win the Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year.
Muzhingi’s victory in the Cape Town ultra-marathon over Easter was narrow yet had the stamp of authority on it, and one had the impression that he could have gone much faster.
He beat Henry Moyo (MAW) by 27 seconds, with Collen Makaza (ZIM) third a further 10 seconds back.
In the run-up to the Comrades Muzhingi has been quietly confident, as always. He seems to have every skill needed in his armory and it will take a superb effort to beat him.
When asked about the return of double record holder Leonid Shvetsov (RUS), Muzhingi said: “There is no pressure (on me) at all. If anything, after resting for two years, it is Mr. Shvetsov who is under pressure. I am feeling good, I am prepared and I am focused on my victory!”
It should be noted that his margin of victory in his two down run wins were much bigger than when he won the “up” run — 9:43 and 6:28 respectively. Moyo, who did not finish the 2011 Comrades, will again be there to challenge Muzhingi.
He will not be alone, as all nine gold medalists (top-10 finishers) behind Muzhingi last year will be back. Only one of them, Ludwick Mamabolo, who was seventh, also finished in the top thirty in the Two Oceans.
The others are, in the order they finished, Fanie Matshipa, Claude Moshyiwa, Jonas Buud (Swe), Gift Kelehe, Chasara Masiyatsva (Zim), Charles Tjiane, Brian Zondi and Mncedisi Mkhize.
Four of the top ten of 2011 also finished with gold medals in the last down run, in 2010: Muzhingi, Mamabola (second in his first Comrades), Matshipa (4th) and Moshiywa (6th). Matshipa’s record in recent Comrades races is second only to that of Muzhingi, but he failed to finish the IAU World 100 km last year.