South African athletes brushed off foreign challenges on Saturday, with Bongmusa Mthembu cementing his place as the country’s top ultra-distance runner and Gerda Steyn clocking a superb time to defend her title at the 50th edition of the Old Mutual Two Oceans 56km race in Cape Town.
In the men’s race, Kenyan-born French athlete Abraham Kiprotich went out hard and charged through halfway in 1:31:14, more than a minute clear of the rest of the field.
He paid for his suicidal early pace, however, and four-time Soweto Marathon winner Sintayehu Yinesu of Ethiopia took the lead shortly before the 42km mark.
But he too succumbed to the rolling hills in the second half, and Mthembu was rewarded for running a well judged race.
Lying fifth with 14km to go, the three-time Comrades Marathon winner stormed through the field in the latter stages and crossed the line in 3:08:40 to secure his maiden Two Oceans crown.
Meanwhile, in the women’s contest, Steyn won a hard-fought battle, narrowly missing out on the long-standing race record despite the organisers making a late adjustment to the course due to potential protests by local residents.
She defended the title she won so memorably in 2018.
Though she was trailed by diminutive athlete Mamorallo Tjoka of Lesotho and ultra-marathon debutant Irvette van Zyl for most of the race, Steyn was in command throughout, setting a fast pace as her opponents were forced to hang on.
After storming through halfway in 1:46:28, Steyn first shook off Van Zyl and then Tjoka, with her relentless pace taking its toll.
She completed the race in 3:31:29, less than a minute outside the 30-year-old record of 3:30:36 held by Frith van der Merwe.
Tjoka, a seven-time winner of the Soweto Marathon, took second place in 3:38:23 and Van Zyl held on to finish third in 3:41:32.
Earlier, in-form athlete Elroy Gelant won the men’s half-marathon race in 1:03:20, finishing 11 seconds ahead of Lesotho’s Jobo Khatoane.
And Helalia Johannes of Namibia won the women’s race for the fifth time, earning a comfortable victory and setting a Two Oceans 21km record of 1:10:30.