There were a few smiles at Mr Price early on Tuesday when they announced the names of the South African runners in their elite squad for Sunday’s Comrades Marathon from Durban to Pietermaritzburg.
Fusi Nhlapo, Sipho Ngomane and Vladimir Kotov, all previous winners of the KwaZulu-Natal epic, were named in the Mr Price squad by manager Graham Daniel.
The three athletes carry the hopes of the South Africans, they have the experience, the physique and the stamina to win this race and we hope that they will bring the winner’s medal home this year, he said.
For 16 years the international runners have dominated the Up Run of the world famous race and Daniel believes that the time has come for that stranglehold to be broken.
There are some fine athletes in South Africa at the moment, we have some very experienced men in our squad as well and we all hope that the vice-like grip the internationals have taken on the Up Run will finally be broken this year,” he said.
While Nhlapo, who wore the colours of Liberty Life, and Ngomane, who won while running for Harmony Gold (now Nedbank Running Club) may be the key men in the Mr Price squad, Mncedisi Mkhize, who was the first South African home last year could be the man to challenge the likes of Oleg Kharitonov, who is defending his Up Run title this weekend.
Leonid Shvetsov won the Down Run last year in 5hrs 20min 01secs thus shattering the long-standing record of legendary Bruce Fordyce in the process.
Kharitinov and Shvetsov, both Russians, are the hot favourites for the crown this weekend and will test the South Africans as they have prepared in colder conditions and will be pretty well acclimatised when they hit the road on Sunday morning.
Vladimir Kotov, who is now a resident of South Africa but who once ran in the colours of Belarus, has the ability to go the distance but age could count against him.
There are younger runners in the 11 000 field who have been working hard to get a gold medal (the Top 10 are presented with gold medals) and it would not be a surprise if Kotov, an experienced campaigner who has won three Up Runs in a row, misses out this time around.
The others in the Mr Price team are: Christopher Mabengeza, Desmond Zibi, William Mokwakakwala, Paul Mhiza, Claude Moshiywa, Leboka Noto, Mabule Raphotle, Godfrey Sensenyamotse, Charles Tjiane, Prodigal Khumalo, Sandile Makhaye, Philane Memela and Vusi Sokhela.
Meanwhile with Yolande MacLean out of this year’s Comrades because of an injury the focus will be on Riana van Niekerk, one of the country’s top ultra-distance runners.
Some of her main contenders will be Grace de Oliveira, who has rarely been out of the Top 10, the experienced Carol Mercer and Davera Magson. The Comrades Marathon starts outside the Durban City Hall at 5.30am.