With the Comrades Marathon just days away, the most frequently-asked question is: Who can prevent Leonid Shvetsov from defending his crown to become the first man in two decades to claim back-to-back titles?
The obvious answer is: Oleg Kharitonov. If Shvetsov were to falter on the 86km trek from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on Sunday – though the 39-year-old doctor must be the odds-on favourite – fellow Russian Kharitonov will be waiting to pounce. Winner of the previous “up” run in 2006, this former cross-country skier has an impressive Comrades pedigree.
In six attempts at the world’s biggest ultra, Kharitonov has only once been outside the top four – last year when he was sixth.
Since 2002, he has finished fourth, second, third, second, first and sixth, and the race distance clearly holds no fears for this former European 100km champion.
Not even Shvetsov can boast a Comrades CV of that calibre, although his is an eye-popping one nonetheless. On his debut in 2001, Shvetsov finished a close second to South African Andrew Kelehe, underestimating the severity of the course and thus leaving his charge for victory too late.
However, there was to be no repeat last year as Shvetsov fairly raced to victory, lopping almost four minutes off Comrades king Bruce Fordyce’s “down” record that had stood for 21 years, in a time of 5hr 20min 49sec.
Fordyce, incidentally, was the last man to win back-to-back; in fact, clinching an amazing eight consecutively from 1981.
This year, though, Shvetsov has refused to be drawn on whether he has Cape Town-based Belarusian Vladimir Kotov’s eight-year-old “up” record of 5:25,33 in his sights.
Other challengers will include Russian Grigoriy Murzin, Australian Magnus Michelsson and, yes, Kotov, who, despite being in his 50s, cannot be discounted as he has won the “up” race three times.
Posted by Stuart Barrington