Irvette the one to beat | SASCOC - SASCOC

Irvette the one to beat

Sunday morning’s SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge in Randburg is expected to feature a battle royal among some of South Africa’s top road runners.

Nedbank CGA teammates, Irvette van Blerk and Rene Kalmer, have dominated the SPAR Challenge in recent years, although Kalmer is focusing on qualifying for the marathon at the Olympic Games in London next year. This year, Kalmer won the first Challenge race, in Cape Town, but missed the Port Elizabeth and Pretoria races because of international commitments and then stomach cramps forced her out of the Durban race.

Van Blerk, who finished fourth in Cape Town and second in Port Elizabeth, won both the Durban and Pretoria races, and will be defending her title in Johannesburg on Sunday. She is the favourite to win the race and to collect her second Grand Prix cheque.

Diana-Lebo Phalula, who won the Port Elizabeth Challenger, and her twin sister Lebogang, are also strong contenders. Poppy Mlambo, who has been out of action with an ITB injury, is running again and is always competitive. Other top runners are Christine Kalmer, Annerien van Schalkwyk, Zintle Xiniwe of Cape Town, and Zimbabwean runner Rutendo Nyahora.

ÔÇ£The course is quite hilly, and that might suit Rene,ÔÇØ said Van Blerk.┬á ÔÇ£She is good on the hills and she is running well at the moment, so I will have to do well to beat her. The Phalula twins are hard to beat, and Rutendo is very good.ÔÇØ

If she finishes in the top three, Van Blerk is assured of a handsome cheque for R60 000 for winning the SPAR Grand Prix.  She has 96 points after four races, and has a lead of 23 points over her nearest rival Xiniwe. Xiniwe has a remote mathematical chance of overtaking Van Blerk on the Grand Prix leaderboard, but the likelihood is that Van Blerk will win the Grand Prix for the second year in a row.

Van Schalkwyk is in third position, with 55 points, followed by Charne Bosman and Catherine Skosana on 49 points each.

Kalmer, who has twice won the Grand Prix, is out of contention for the top prize, after missing three of this year’s races, but she will win some money if she finishes in the top 20 on the leaderboard.┬á The Grand Prix is worth a massive R170 000, with the runner with the most points after all five races receiving R60 000.┬á Runner-up gets R30 000, and the third placed athlete R15 000.┬á There are cash prizes for the top 20 runners on the leaderboard and certificates for all athletes who earn Grand Prix points.

ÔÇ£The Grand Prix is a great idea ÔÇô it really adds something,ÔÇØ said Van Blerk. ÔÇ£The girls certainly bring their A-game when they know how much money is at stake.┬á And most of the top runners now try to run all five of the SPAR┬á races. ÔÇ£Thinking about the money certainly puts a smile on your face,ÔÇØ she laughed.