Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Two Oceans returns: Steyn, Mthembu ready to defend titles

The Two Oceans half-marathon will be held on Saturday, starting at 6.30am, and the 56km ultra-marathon will be held at 5.20am on Sunday.

With the race returning after a two-year hiatus, defending champions Gerda Steyn and Bongmusa Mthembu are eager to pick up where they left off, but both athletes admit they will have targets on their backs at this weekend’s Totalsports Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town.

Major ultra-distance races were cancelled in 2020 and 2021, and Steyn opted to focus on the standard marathon distance, achieving significant success by setting a national 42.2km record of 2:25:28 in Siena and finishing 15th in the Olympic marathon in Tokyo last year.

The release of lockdown restrictions, however, will see Steyn flaunting her ability over ultra-distances once again on Sunday, as she aims to become the first athlete in 22 years to win the 56km Two Oceans race three times in a row.

And some pundits will be backing her to chase Frith van der Merwe’s long-standing record of 3:30:36 after the 32-year-old Dubai-based star narrowly missed the mark in her last Two Oceans appearance in 2019, when she stopped the clock at 3:31:29.

“The Two Oceans always attracts top athletes, so I know that I cannot merely pitch up and expect to win, never mind run a fast time,” Steyn said in the build-up to the event.

“But I have done the work and I will stick to my plan and run my own race. If that is good enough for the win, or even a fast time or a record, then I will be very happy. You can only do your best.”

While Mthembu was more adversely affected by the pandemic than Steyn, whose remarkable versatility gave her more options and opportunities to compete during lockdown, he too is confident of putting up a fight this week.

Bongmusa Mthembu
Bongmusa Mthembu is hoping to secure his second victory at the Two Oceans this weekend. Picture: Gallo Images

A three-time winner of the 90km Comrades Marathon in KwaZulu-Natal, and a two-time medallist at the 100km World Championships, Mthembu stunned the field to win his maiden Two Oceans title in 2019, completing the race in 2:08:40.

Since then, his best result was a sixth-place finish at the 50km Nedbank Runified race in Gqeberha last year, where the 38-year-old athlete set a world best of 2:43:11 in the 35-39 age group.

Shaking off some potential rust, he wants to prove he is still the man to beat.

“Defending my title is important. A race of the calibre of the Two Oceans Marathon is very prestigious, and to win it is an honour, so I will make sure that I am prepared as best I can be for the race,” Mthembu told the organisers earlier this year.

The popular 21.1km Two Oceans half-marathon will be held on Saturday, starting at 6.30am, and the 51st edition of the 56km ultra-marathon will be held at 5.20am on Sunday. Both races will finish at the University of Cape Town sport fields in Rondebosch.

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