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02 Jun 2012 14:26
Leonid Shvetsov during the 2009 Comrades Marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. (Anesh Debiky, Gallo Images)
The 87th Comrades Marathon Sunday is widely expected to be one of the closest contests in recent years as defending champion Stephen Muzhingi faces up to the return of record holder Leonid Shvetsov.The Russian Shvetsov was beaten by Zimbabwean Muzhingi when he last took part in 2009 and subsequently announced his retirement from the sport.His return has added an extra edge to the 2012 race where the South African challenge will be spearheaded by a strong contingent made up of 2011 runner-up Fanie Matshipa, Gift Kelehe, fifth last year, 2003 winner Fusi Nhlapo and the confident Gert Thys.Team Nedbank runner Shvetsov (43) has already stated he is here to win the race and played some mind games in the build-up when he stated that the reigning champion was “unchallenged” during his past three victories.Muzhingi reacted by insisting there was no pressure on him and turned the focus back to the former Olympian and ex-Russian marathon record holder.“If anything, after resting for two years, it is Mr. Shvetsov who is under pressure,” said Muzhingi.The 2012 Two Oceans Marathon winner conceded that he was the one that everyone would be trying to catch, but said he was prepared for that challenge, with his main ambition from the race being to record a time of five hours and 20 minutes, nine minutes quicker than his winning run in 2010.“I’m going to be setting a fast pace, not around the usual four minutes per kilometre pace but more like three-and-a-half minutes.”Three in a rowOn the women’s side, Russian Elena Nurgalieva is again the outright favourite as she bids to win a seventh title.However, the 35-year-old, bidding to make it three in a row for the first time, will not have her twin sister at her side this year—Olesya Nurgalieva became a mother for the first time earlier this year.The biggest challengers for the crown are expected to come from countrywomen Irina Vishnevskaya and Nina Podnebesnova.The home charge will be led by Farwar Mentoor, who has been the top South African female for nine years during her career.She finished fifth in 2011, the sixth time she earned a top-five finish.“I’ll definitely try to do better this year,” she said.“My first target is to improve on my time and hopefully that will raise my position as well.”The race will also mark a debut for world-famous South African runner Zola Budd-Pieterse, who said running Comrades was a lifelong ambition.“It’s the biggest ultra-run in the world.
Not to be disrespectful to anyone, but it’s a race that’s not about the top athletes. “It’s a race that gives hope to so many people,” she said.—Sapa
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