The war horse versus the phenom. It should be a cracking battle.
Irvette van Zyl, seen here at the 2019 Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in Cape Town, is hoping to return to competitive running at the Hamburg Marathon in April. Picture: Getty Images
One a young prodigy who evolved into a gutsy front-runner, and the other a late bloomer with tremendous potential, Irvette van Zyl and Gerda Steyn both have opportunities to break new ground as they gear up for international marathon races.
Van Zyl has confirmed she will run the Hamburg Marathon in Germany in April, and while Steyn has not yet unveiled the event she is planning to contest, she too looks set to race over the 42.2km distance in Europe within the next couple of months.
A competitive athlete on the domestic circuit since she was a teenager, 33-year-old Van Zyl has bounced back from multiple injuries and two pregnancies, and she remains one of the nation’s best distance runners.
Though she might not have the same spring she used to have in her lengthy stride, Van Zyl possesses tremendous strength and determination, and she’s as hard to crack as a granite boulder.
Her best marathon time of 2:31:26 was set in London nearly eight years ago, but she can go much quicker over the classic distance, as was evident when she won the Soweto Marathon in 2:33:43 in 2018, over a challenging course at altitude.
It would be a real pity if Van Zyl ends her career without becoming the sixth South African woman to dip under 2:30:00, but she might rectify that soon enough.
Steyn, better known as an ultra-distance specialist after winning the Two Oceans and Comrades races in 2019, has since shone over shorter distances and has already stuck up her hand at international level, with her sights set on the Olympic marathon in Tokyo in August.
Gerda Steyn, the winner of the 94th Comrades Marathon on June 9, 2019 in Durban, is staying in good shape at her training base in Dubai. Picture: Getty Images
While she took up the sport competitively when she was only 24, she has developed into a durable athlete with both speed and endurance at her disposal, setting an impressive personal best marathon time when she finished seventh at last year’s London Marathon in 2:26:51.
Having finished just 16 seconds outside Collen de Reuck’s SA record set in 1996, she should again rattle the national best this year.
While Steyn, based in Dubai, has displayed consistently good form whenever she has been given the chance throughout the lockdown, it is unclear what shape Van Zyl will be in when she lines up in Hamburg.
Both athletes, however, have proved their immense ability, and their careers could cross paths this season as they look to give the national all-time lists a shake.
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