Bongmusa Mthembu cemented his place as South Africa’s top ultra-distance runner on Sunday, delivering a historic performance by securing his second career victory at the Comrades Marathon.
Charles Tjiane took early control in the 87km ‘up’ run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, charging through the halfway point at Drummond in 2:47:29, nearly two minutes clear of a large chasing group.
Though he managed to extend his advantage in the early stages of the second half, however, Tjiane was caught by the pack, which had been whittled down to six men with 22km to go.
Gradually shaking off his opposition, as they dropped off the pace one by one, Mthembu took the lead approaching the infamous Polly Shortts climb with less than 10km remaining.
He held on to secure victory in 5:35:34, and while he was 11 minutes outside the ‘up’ run record, he finished more than three minutes ahead of Zimbabwean athlete Hatiwande Nyamande who took second place in 5:38:48.
Defending ‘up’ run champion Gift Kelehe finished third in 5:41:48, fellow former winner Ludwick Mamabolo ended fourth in 5:42:40, and Tjiane did well to hang on for fifth place in 5:45:26.
Mthembu, who won the Comrades ‘down’ run in 2014 and bagged silver at the 100km World Championships last year, became the first South African man in 27 years to win the prestigious annual race more than once.
Meanwhile, in the women’s contest, American athlete Camille Herron overcame a stutter at the end to bag her maiden Comrades title.
Herron, who had missed out on two previous attempts at the race due to illness and injury, dominated the women’s event.
Despite stopping before the line, believing she had reached the finish at a timing mat less than 200m before the end, she was directed by an amateur male athlete running behind her, and she went on to complete the gruelling event in 6:27:35.
Russian athlete Alexandra Morozova pushed hard in the second half to grab the runner-up spot in 6:31:45.
While the Russian athletics federation had been banned from the International Association of Athletics Federations, preventing athletes from competing at major international championships, race organisers confirmed Morozova had received clearance to compete at the race in advance.
Last year’s ‘down’ run winner Charne Bosman struggled with a groin injury but held on to finish third in 6:39:51, as the first South African woman home.
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