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Cracking SPAR Women’s Challenge Tshwane expected in Centurion

Several contenders will try to reduce Helalia Johannes of Namibia's lead in the SPAR Grand Prix on Saturday in Centurion by winning the biggest race in the series.

A huge crowd is expected to take part in the Tshwane edition of the SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge at Supersport Park on Saturday afternoon, and all eyes will be on the top runners, who are vying for points in the lucrative SPAR Grand Prix.

Namibian Helalia Johannes (Nedbank International), who won the first three races, all with bonus points, leads the SPAR Grand Prix competition with 90 points.  Ethiopian Tadu Neru (Nedbank Ethiopia), who was second in Port Elizabeth and Durban, and third in Cape Town, is in second position, with 86 points, and three times SPAR Grand Prix winner Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank CGA) is close behind her, with 78 points. She came fifth in Port Elizabeth, seventh in Cape Town and third in Durban.

However, Van Zyl is unlikely to run on Saturday.  She recently underwent surgery to tackle an on-going vascular problem with her left leg.

“They took a conservative approach and we are hoping that this will solve the problem, which has been troubling me since 2012. I have been out of training and for once I am listening to my body. I want to make sure that this works, because if it doesn’t, I will have to have more drastic surgery,” said Van Zyl.

Johannes came second in the Bogota half marathon on Sunday, in a time of 72.16 minutes at high altitude.

Neru, meanwhile, goes into Saturday’s race on the back of her victory in the ASA half marathon in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.  Neru dominated the women’s race from start to finish, clocking 70.20 minutes. Last year’s SPAR Grand Prix winner, Glenrose Xaba (Boxer GN) was the first South African home, in the impressive time of 71.08. Xaba won the Pretoria race last year, and while she has had a disappointing SPAR Challenge series so far this year, she is running well and could claim a place on the podium on Saturday.

Other runners to look out for on Saturday are Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts FS), the Grand Prix winner in 2017, Jenet Mbhele (Umzimkulu Striders), and Caroline Mhandu and Betha Chikanga (both of Maxed Elite Zimbabwe).

The first three races were all run at sea level and the Pretoria race is the first to be run at altitude.  SPAR Grand Prix coordinator Ian Laxton believes it will make little difference to the outcome of the race, with Johannes and Neru likely to fill the top two places.

However, fewer runners are expected to be able to claim bonus points for finishing below the winning time in 2018.  The first three races saw record numbers of runners earning bonus points, with as many as 10 beating the clock in the opening race in Port Elizabeth.

Johannes set new Namibian national records in each of the first three races and will be aiming to do the same on Saturday.


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