The spirit of the Soccer World Cup welcomed the 2010 Comrades Marathon winner, Stephen Muzhingi, into Kingsmead Stadium in Durban
on Sunday, as vuvuzelas blared in the electrically-charged atmosphere.
Winning back-to-back down runs, Zimbabwean Muzhingi (F1 Bluff Meats) finished in 5:29, over five minutes slower than last year’s run when he achieved the second fastest time in the history
of the race (5:23,27).
The 33 year-old was congratulated by officials and hugged by his wife and son before he fell to his knees in gratitude, and exhaustion, after being paraded in front of the photographers.
South Africans Ludwick Mamabolo (5:35,28) and Sergio Motsoeneng (5:35,57) finished second and third, respectively.
It was a one, two, three for the Russians in the women’s race. Elena Nurgalieva took her winning tally to five (6:13,03) followed a split second later by her twin sister Olesya (6:13,04). Third place went to Marina Myshlyanova (6:26,02).
In fourth was American Kami Semick (6:32,54) and the first South African home, in fifth place, was 37-year-old Farwa Mentoor from Bredasdorp in the Western Cape (6:38,40).
It was Mentoor’s 10th top-ten finish and her eighth as first South African woman across the line. Her best finish was third in 2003.
Close to 19 000 athletes started the race which got under way from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall at 5.30am on Sunday morning, but despite the extra 110m added to ensure a quick and safe exit
route from the city, it still took the bulk of competitors more than 10 minutes to reach the starting line after the gun was fired.
Wellington Chidodo, of Zimbabwe, started at a cracking pace and it was clear he was aiming for the first two hotspots. He faded very quickly afterwards, stopping to take refreshments and to
re-energise before finishing the race close to the nine hour mark (8:52,44) but R12 000 richer.
Hot favourite, American Josh Cox apparently overslept and arrived late at the start. He was ushered to the front in the nick of time but could only manage a silver medal with his 6:51,28 while Charles Tjiane, who led from just after halfway until Muzhingi stepped up his pace, finished in 6:22,15.
Muzhingi, still camera-shy, said he felt tremendous pressure in the first half of the race. He admitted he had trained for the record but knew it was lost in the first half when he got to Drummond.
Last year, he ran 2:43 to the halfway point but he was two minutes slower this time as he felt the pressure from the other athletes.
“When Muzhingi runs, they run. When Muzhingi stops, they stop,” he said.
“They were all using me. It was very tough on me today.”
With 18km to go, Muzhingi, who was never far behind the pacesetters, stormed into the front and never looked in trouble. He attributed his success to his coach and the crowd.
“I had so much support from the people of Durban . They know me as they’ve seen me on the road training and I didn’t want to disappoint them. They were encouraging me all the time to keep up my pace so the energy was coming from them but also my coach — he was behind my success today.”
The Nurgalieva twins ran side by side for most of the race but Elena stepped out in front at the finish line.
“Today, I was the stronger one, so I won,” said Elena, who last won in 2008 after Olesya won last year.
“We were very fast in the first half but then someone told us we had more than a 10-minute lead so we slowed down a bit.”
She puts the difference between themselves and the South African runners down to the fact that they train so hard. “Our life is constant training,” she said, “so maybe that is why we are better”.
Olesya, who speaks better English, added Elena was the stronger runner on the day so it was her victory. “She helps me in life, she helps me in training and she helps me in races,” she said of her sister.
But the last words went to Muzhingi, who feels disappointed no one in Zimbabwe has acknowledged his success.
“In Zimbabwe, everyone has heard of Kirsty Coventry [Olympic gold medallist for swimming] but no one has heard of me. I was home for four months and no one knew me. I would like the people of Zimbabwe and the government to give me recognition for what I have achieved,” he said.