Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
5 Oct 2013
7:00 am

Can April win in November? You bet he can

Wesley Botton

It might seem overly optimistic to believe a South African can win a major international marathon these days, but if anyone in this country has a chance of beating the plethora of East Africans over 42km, it's Lusapho April.

Wesley Botton.

In other top-flight city marathons like London, Chicago and Berlin, it’s all about speed, and if you can’t run under 2:06:00, any thought of victory is nothing more than a pipe dream. April, therefore, could not have made a better decision than adding his name to the elite men’s field in New York.

Two South Africans have previously won in the Big Apple, perhaps the most prestigious of the six races that form the World Marathon Majors series, and they both boasted characteristics similar to April.

Willie Mtolo and Hendrick Ramaala were tough as hell in their prime, and both raced sparingly, which are crucial aspects if one hopes to secure victory in a challenging race where strength and tactics are key.

Six years before he won in New York, Mtolo was involved in one of the closest marathon finishes in South African history when he was edged by 11 seconds in a do-or-die battle against Zithulele Sinqe at the 1986 SA Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth.

If anything, Ramaala showed even more guts in his career, twice being pipped on the line by Kenyan legend Paul Tergat first at the 1999 World Half-marathon Championships in Palermo, and then as defending champion in Central Park in 2005 in the closest finish in the race’s history.

April, 31, is just as gritty and has paid his dues. He set the national 25km record of 1:15:02 in 2010, and the following year he became the first non-Kenyan to win the Hannover Marathon in nine years.

In May he clocked 2:08:32 to smash the course record and secure his second win in Hannover, and after skipping the World Championships marathon due to injury, he showed he was regaining his best form last month when he finished second behind Stephen Mokoka at the national half-marathon championships in East London.

Unlike many of his compatriots, April also keeps his racing schedule light, which is vital if you hope to compete for victory in major international marathons. I’m not suggesting that April is the favourite to win on November 3. He’s up against a world-class field, and there are few things less predictable than a 42.2km race.

Only twice, however, has anyone broken 2:08:00 to win in New York, and while April has yet to make a real impact at international level, if he’s going to spring a surprise then New York is the race to do it.

April has got as good a chance as Mtolo and Ramaala did when they won that’s enough for me.