Lucas Jani and Patience Khumalo battled windy conditions and a tough course on Saturday to win the men’s and women’s titles at the SA Marathon Championships in East London.
Jani secured victory in the men’s race in a pedestrian time of 2:21:32, nearly four minutes outside his personal best.
With Athletics South Africa (ASA) introducing a late clause in its selection criteria for the Olympics, forcing most contenders for the Rio Games to turn out at the last minute, Lungile Gongqa took second place in his third marathon in less than five months.
Gongqa, who clocked 2:11:59 in Cape Town in September to qualify for the Games, and went on to finish the Mumbai Marathon in January in 2:17:15, covered the 42km distance in 2:22:17.
Ntsindiso Mphakathi finished third in 2:23:12 to secure the bronze medal.
“I went for a tactical race because I knew it was going to be tough today,” Jani said.
“I deliberately stayed behind within the chasing group but tried to work myself up the field every seven kilometres to test them.
“The winds were really difficult to deal with, but I managed to deal with that like everyone else.”
Khumalo, running her first marathon, dominated the women’s race.
She overcame cramps to win in 2:47:15 and collapsed on the line.
Mapaseka Makhanya, who qualified for the Olympics when she clocked 2:37:21 in Shanghai in November, ended second in 2:51:29.
Tanith Maxwell, who withdrew from this weekend’s Seville Marathon to fulfil ASA’s criteria, earned bronze in 2:53:19.
“I had to stop at least four times to deal with cramps, but each time I worked hard to catch up with Mapaseka,” Khumalo said.
“With this being my maiden (42km) race, it was a surprise even to me to have won. Before the race this was definitely not the finish I expected.”
Makhanya and Maxwell were both critical of the course, which had received IAAF certification of the eve of the event, to allow athletes to qualify for Rio.
No athlete in the men’s or women’s events achieved the required standards of 2:19:00 and 2:45:00.
“I think it was ridiculous because it was just endlessly hilly,” Makhanya said.
“I don’t have issues with the windy conditions because one cannot control that, but the hills were ridiculous.
“But I had a good race, never felt threatened and was confident from the start about where I would be placed in the end.”
Maxwell also felt the national federation could have made more of an effort to ensure athletes had a chance to qualify for the Olympics at the race, after forcing them to run with eight days’ notice.
“If ASA wants to create the opportunity for those athletes that don’t get invitations or cannot afford to run IAAF accredited races overseas, they have to give those athletes a fair chance by providing them with fast marathon courses. They must also stage the marathon at a cooler time of the year,” Maxwell said.
“I am fortunate to be able to do marathons overseas, and can still do that should I wish to do so, but for the rest of the marathon athletes (hoping to qualify for Rio) it is over.”
Makhanya and Maxwell were among the athletes who ran well within themselves at the race, which was held in conjunction with the annual Buffs Marathon, in order to tick off the latest box to be considered for selection to the Olympic team.
Sisters Rene and Christine Kalmer also used the race as a training run and pulled out before the finish to rest their legs in the build-up to the Games.