The 35-year-old, who came seventh last year and second in 2010, broke the foreign stranglehold on the annual event to win the 89km “down” run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in five hours, 31 minutes and three seconds (5:31.03), keeping Zimbabwe’s Stephen Muzhingi from winning a fourth successive crown.
He took the lead after four hours of running and didn’t look back as he bagged the first local victory for the race since Sipho Ngomane won in 2005.
“I’m very happy to have won, and to become the 2012 champion of this ultra-human race is surreal. It’s a dream come true,” a delighted, but tired Mamabolo said afterwards.
“I am just very grateful to be the first South African in seven years to win … It has pained me every day to look in the newspapers and see that no South African name was there … It was only the foreigners they were talking about that could win and have won in recent years … But today I am happy and this win is for everyone, the whole country.
Lebohang Monyele took the early lead in the 87th edition of the race, but was caught by fellow novice Gert Thys, the South African record holder in the standard marathon, shortly before the halfway mark.
He blew up spectacularly, however, after going through the halfway stage at Drummond with a lead of more than seven minutes over the other real contenders.
Mamabolo then made the race his own with 22km to go, from the bottom of Fields Hill, going on to finish comfortably ahead of another South African, Bongmusa Mthembu, who crossed the line in 5:32.42.
Five local athletes secured gold medals by finishing among the top 10.
“When I caught Muzhingi’s bunch, I sat with them for a while and was listening to the rhythm,” Mamabolo said.
“I thought to myself ‘this is my race’ and I began to feel confident because I was staying with them … When we reached the halfway stage and were going up the mountain, I saw that I was stronger than everybody, so I stayed with them until about 42 kilometres left and then went for it and it paid off.”
Nurgalieva’s seventh victory
Elena Nurgalieva secured her seventh victory in the women’s race, and her third in succession, despite the absence of twin sister Olesya, who skipped the race after giving birth to her first child.
Nurgalieva, who won in 6:07.12, brushed off challenges from other foreign athletes, including fellow Russian Natalia Volgina and British ultra-marathon specialist Eleanor Greenwood.
Having gone through the halfway stage with a narrow lead, Greenwood eventually fell back as Nurgalieva strengthened her decade-long grip on the race.
Greenwood held on to finish second in 6:08.24.
Kerry Koen was the first South African woman home, taking sixth position in 6:45:44, with three local athletes securing gold medals. – Sapa