Comrades in need of a local hero

Posted on June 15, 2008 by


We’ve all seen the poor bastard who is first to be cordoned off by the Comrades Marathon security staff at the end of the race, having failed to beat the gun that signals the final cut-off time.

Our empathy for the absolute waste of time the bloke’s just subjected himself to lasts for all of two minutes, then we forget all about him.

Nedbank Runner’s Club runner Lucas Nonyana was that guy in 2003, the big exception being that he was determined not to be so easily forgotten.

After taking a bath in that run, Nonyana decided it would help if he trained a little better, the result being a 20th-place finish the next year.

From then on, as they say in the classics, the rest was Comrades history.

Having gone on to finish ninth last year, Nonyana lined up this morning as one of the South African favourites, along with Mr Price’s Leboka Noto, Mncedisi Mkhize, Sipho Ngomane and Brian Zondi .

But as much as his story is the epitome of the Comrades Marathon — the triumph of the human spirit — Nonyana is highly unlikely to be the story of the Comrades.

Ready: Lucas Nonyana has done the hard work. Picture: Thembinkosi Dwayisa

That honour, and the R220000 that goes with it, will belong to some Eastern European or other in both the men’s and women’s races.

It is difficult to look beyond the competition’s favourites to win — last year’s down-run winner Leonid Shvetsov and the rolling-gaited Nurgalieva twins Elena and Olesya — for victors.

Oleg Kharitonov (Mr Price), the winner of the last up run in 2006, Grigoriy Murzin (Nedbank), and even the man with the most taxing mid-life crisis toys (a pair of takkies), Vladimir Kotov, 50, are all also worth a mention.

But the race that is so uniquely South African is now all about internationals we know nothing about, which is starting to show in the scant attention we’re all beginning to pay it.

Bruce Fordyce, the last “Mr Comrades”, believes our interest in the race is waning for a number of reasons.

“There’s huge competition from other ‘minor’ sports like rugby, football and cricket,” he said, tongue in cheek.

“During sporting isolation in the ’80s, there was very little sport to watch. These days there’s Euro 2008, rugby Tests and the Olympics.”

Fordyce said while it was great the race had gone international, it had alienated its South African following.

“You don’t get South African winners anymore,” he said. “When you do, they’re not multi-winners. Fusi Nhlapo, Andrew Kelehe have won, but they’ve never been able to repeat it, so they get out of the South Africans’ psyche.

“There’s been a burst of Eastern Europeans, though, whose names not too many South Africans can spell.”

The nine-time Comrades winner said the date the race was being run on was also problematic.

“The June date’s never been satisfactory. The Comrades’ natural time is May, when it is carried on the crest of a running wave from the Two Oceans.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year and the year after, when the race moves to May 24 and May 30,” said Fordyce.