Comrades champs ready | SASCOC - SASCOC

Comrades champs ready

Defending champion Stephen Muzhingi was oozing confidence on the eve of Sunday’s 86th Comrades Marathon, while his counterpart on the women’s side, Elena Nurgalieva, was far more conservative in her predictions.

Muzhingi, who won the ‘down’ run for the last two years, said he was confident of breaking the men’s record for the ‘up’ run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, reports

The Zimbabwean was ÔÇ£aiming for five hour and 24 minutesÔÇ£, which would challenge the record of 5:24.49 set by Leonid Shvetsov of Russia in 2008.

ÔÇ£I don’t put pressure on myself anymore and I’m going to run my own race,ÔÇØ Muzhingi said on Friday. ÔÇ£It’s a matter of dealing with distance and time, rather than people, and I’m not going to run anyone else’s race.ÔÇØ

Nurgalieva, who has dominated the women’s race in recent years, along with twin sister Olesya, said her sights were set on a sixth win, but she had no plans to chase her own course record (6:09.24) set in 2006.

ÔÇ£Every time I come to South Africa for the Comrades Marathon, I hope for victory, or even for position two, but I never think about the record,ÔÇØ said the Russian title holder.

ÔÇ£It depends on how fast the other girls run, the conditions on the day, and how well you slept the night before. There are a lot of things that must go right if we are to break the record.ÔÇØ

A new breed of foreign athletes were paraded in front of the media, but the South African contingent remained confident they could reclaim top honours in the gruelling 89km race.

The last South African man to win the ‘up’ run was Jetman Msutu in 1992, after another local, Charl Mattheus, was controversially disqualified for doping, and the last South African woman to win the race was Rae Bisschoff in 1998.

ÔÇ£There are a lot of South African runners who are capable of winning, so hopefully we can do it,ÔÇØ said 2007 Two Oceans Marathon champion Bethuel Netshifhefhe.

His compatriot, Farwa Mentoor, aiming for her 10th gold medals in the women’s race, also believed the local contingent could wrest back control of the race.

ÔÇ£It all depends how you feel on the day, but we have a good field of South African women and I think we will do well,ÔÇØ Mentoor said.

The men’s and women’s fields, packed with foreigners from around the world, included a host of wildcards.

Jonas Buud of Sweden, the European 100km champion and a silver medallist at the 2010 World 100km Championships, said he had done his homework ahead of his Comrades debut.

ÔÇ£I received a video of the last ‘up’ run and I prepared for this race throughout the winter, so I hope I’m ready,ÔÇØ said Buud.

The most interesting prospects, however, are on the women’s side, and Elena Nurgalieva said she would keep a watchful eye on American Kami Semick, who finished fifth on debut last year, and world 100km champion Eleanor Greenwood of Great Britain, who lives and trains in the Canadian Rockies.

Elena’s twin sibling, Olesya, a two-time Comrades winner, nonetheless said they would not waste energy worrying about their competitors.

The race itself, she said, caused enough concern. ÔÇ£We are not afraid of the other girls, but we are afraid of the route,ÔÇØ Olesya said. ÔÇ£In this race you are always fighting your body and your mind.

“After four hours it becomes very difficult to push yourself and tell yourself not to walk.

ÔÇ£For everyone who runs the Comrades Marathon, it is a victory just to reach the finish.ÔÇØ