SA athletes double up at Two Oceans

The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon was a triumph for South Africans as three-time Comrades Marathon winner Bongmusa Mthembu and defending women’s champion Gerda Steyn claimed the titles on the 50th edition of the world-famous Cape Town race over the Easter weekend.

Mthembu secured his victory in the final few kilometres and was followed home by 2013 winner, David Gatebe. Mthembu’s winning time of 3:08:39 was just less than two minutes ahead of his compatriot’s 3:10:30, with Kenyan Justin Cheshire claiming third in 3:11:22. Ethiopia’s Sintayehu Yinesu and Lesotho’s Mabuthile Lepopo rounded out the top five in 3:12:34 and 3:16:04 respectively.

In the women’s race, Steyn produced a stunning effort to cross the line in 3:31:28, missing Frith van der Merwe’s 30-year-old race record by just 44 seconds. Considering the course over Ou Kaapse Weg – which was changed from the traditional Chappies route just before the event due to protest threats – is considered between one or two minutes slower, the time is a phenomenal effort.

Jenna Challenor (right) and Ronald Shibiri power toward the finish line. Challenor finished fifth in the women’s event.

Steyn, Lesotho’s Mamorallo Tjoka (3:38:22) and pre-race favourite Irvette van Zyl  (3:41:31) claimed the top three steps of the podium with last-year’s runner up Dominika Stelmach from Poland and Jenna Challenor completing the top five with times of 3:50:11 and 3:51:55 respectively.

Speaking to the Cape Argus after the event, Mthembu said he had “planned to run consistently and kept something in the bag for the final stages. I knew the Kenyans were going for the record and I let them go as I thought they would probably pay for their fast pace.

“It was a great victory for South Africa. It’s fantastic that top races like the Two Oceans draws the best ultra-distance athletes on the continent to compete and that we can show that we can match the guys from the north. It was a great feeling to come past the Kenyans and Ethiopians in the final quarter of the race.

“Two Oceans is a great race in its own right and I’m proud to hold the title. I’m a professional athlete and must be able to recover in time for Comrades Marathon. But my goal today was on Two Oceans and I’m delighted to have finally won it.”

As expected a group of Kenyans set a fast early pace and built a big lead over the opening kilometres with a group of runners chasing. At the 42km marathon mark the South Africans looked to have been run out of contention with Abraham Kiprotich out front while Yinesu chased hard ahead of Chesire and Nkoka

Retha Harmse on her way to a 6:24 finish.

Kiprotich was caught by Yinesu just before the marathon mark and then faded dramatically before dropping out while the battle for the lead heated up. Mthembu and Gatebe powered through the final kilometres to chase down their rivals and with four kilometres to go Mthembu moved into the lead with Gatebe ending one min 50 seconds behind.

In the women’s race Kenyan Priscilla Lorchima took an early lead but Steyn and Van Zyl reeled her in by Fish Hoek after 20km. Lorchima could not hold the pace and Tjoka joined the two South Africans over Ou Kaapse Weg.

Van Zyl, running her first ultra-marathon, was the first to crack and Tjoka dropped off soon after, leaving Steyn to cruise to a massive seven-minute victory in the second-fastest time ever at the Two Oceans.

“That was fantastic – the race went exactly as planned. It could not have been any better,” said Steyn. “I felt good the whole way and really enjoyed the climb up Ou Kaapse Weg. It was a great race in every way. I was not going for the record, and at 50km I realised it was not really on, so I backed off a bit.

In the 21.1km half marathon, South Africa’s Elroy Galant – the recent winner of the Durban City Marathon, claimed first place in the men’s race in a time of 1:03:19 while Namibia’s Helalia Johannes won the women’s race in 1:10:29.

Marathon Results

Men’s results: 1 Bongmusa Mthembu (RSA) 3:08:39, 2 David Gatebe (RSA) 3:10:30, 3 Justin Cheshire (KEN) 3:11:22, 4 Sintayehu Yinesu (ETH) 3:12:34, 5 Mabuthile Lepopo (LES) 3:16:04

Women’s results: 1 Gerda Steyn (RSA) 3:31:28, 2 Mamorallo Tjoka (LES) 3:38:22, 3 Irvette van Zyl (RSA) 3:41:31, 4 Dominika Stelmach (POL) 3:50:11, 5 Jenna Challenor (RSA) 3:51:55