Local favourite Gerda Steyn stole the show on Sunday as she shattered the women’s record at the 94th edition of the Comrades Marathon, leading the charge with South African athletes produced sterling performances in KwaZulu-Natal.
After breaking clear of the rest of the women’s field shortly before the halfway mark, Steyn gradually extended her lead throughout the second half, crossing the line in 5:58:53 to secure her maiden victory in the 87km race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.
She finished 17th overall, ripping more than 10 minutes off the 13-year-old record of 6:09:23 held by Russia’s Elena Nurgalieva and becoming the first woman to dip under six hours on the ‘up’ run.
Steyn, who bagged a rare double after winning the Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town in April, completed the race well ahead of second-placed Russian Alexandra Morozova, who finished in 6:17:40 after winning a battle against Athletics South Africa in court this week to be cleared to participate.
Irish debutant Caitriona Jennings did well to hold on, taking third position in 6:24:12 after battling in the latter stages.
“I can’t believe it. I can’t even feel my legs at the moment,” Steyn said.
“I feel blessed and grateful for my race today.
“Last year I was so focussed on my plan, and this year I took it the way I felt, and when I realised the record was on I knew that’s where my race was really starting.
“I gave it my all and left everything on the road.”
Meanwhile, Edward Mothibi stunned a quality line-up in the men’s race to win his first attempt at the ‘up’ run.
After slipping off the pace of defending champion Bongmusa Mthemba, Mothibi clawed his way back into contention up the notorious Polly Shortts climb with less than 10km remaining.
He clung to the lead to take the title in 5:31:33, with three-time winner Mthembu crossing the line just 25 seconds back in 5:31:58.
Nao Kazami of Japan, the 100km world record holder, finished third on debut in 5:39:16.
“I can’t describe how it feels,” Mothibi said.
“I honestly didn’t think I would win the race today. All I wanted was a top 10 finish to secure back-to-back gold medals, so the win was a bonus.”
Results of the 2019 Comrades Marathon
Men: 1 Edward Mothibi (RSA) 5:31:33, 2 Bongmusa Mthembu (RSA) 5:31:58, 3 Nao Kazami (JPN) 5:39:16, 4 Mahlomola Sekhonyana (RSA) 5:43:52, 5 Joseph Manyedi (RSA) 5:44:34, 6 Justin Cheshire (KEN) 5:45:13, 7 Henri Ansio (FIN) 5:45:29, 8 Marko Mambo (ZIM) 5:48:30, 9 Gordon Lesetedi (RSA) 5:52:40, 10 Siya Mqambeli (RSA) 5:52:51
Women: 1 Gerda Steyn (RSA) 5:58:53, 2 Alexandra Morozova (RUS) 6:17:40, 3 Caitriona Jennis (IRL) 6:24:12, 4 Ann Ashworth (RSA) 6:27:15, 5 Dominika Stelmach (POL) 6:34:58, 6 Jenna Challenor (RSA) 6:35:18, 7 Aigul Mingazova (UKR) 6:43:56, 8 Charne Bosman (RSA) 6:49:39, 9 Catrin Jones (CAN) 6:52:44, 10 Mary Khourie (RSA) 6:55:27
— Comrades Marathon (@ComradesRace) June 9, 2019