With the title sponsors offering R1 million for the men’s and women’s marks, held by Thompson Magawana (3:03:44 in 1988) and Frith van der Merwe (3:30:36 in 1989), some of the continent’s top athletes will be aiming for a massive payday in today’s 56km race in Cape Town.
“This is my first time running a race of this length but I’m going for the record,” said former New York Marathon winner Hendrick Ramaala, who will make his ultra-marathon debut.
“All the guys must be ready for it and it’s going to be survival of the fittest.”
Defending champion David Gatebe, who won last year’s event in 3:08:54, agreed with Ramaala that the weather would play a significant role as the South African contingent look to outclass the foreign athletes in the field.
Gatebe, however, was not concerned about the East African threat.
Kenyan David Barmasai Tumo holds a three-year-old standard marathon personal best of 2:07:18, and Ethiopian veteran Moges Taye enters the race with a 42km career record of 2:09:21.
“If the weather is favourable and there is no wind we can go for it,” Gatebe said.
“I’m not afraid of the Kenyans. They are marathon specialists, not ultra-runners.”
However, former champion Stephen Muzhingi of Zimbabwe, a three-time Comrades Marathon winner, said he would not be targeting the hefty pay cheque.
Muzhingi was the only elite athlete at yesterday’s pre-race media conference who did not believe Magawana’s mark was in danger.
“There’s no way they will break this record. Chapman’s Peak and Constantia Nek (hills in the second half) will get in the way,” Muzhingi said.
“I’m not going to push hard at the beginning or put any pressure on myself.”