Muzhingi completes Comrades hat-trick
Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi became the first man in 23 years to win the Comrades Marathon three successive times with a convincing victory in the 86th edition of the race in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
South African Fanie Matshipa, who had done a lot of the hard work, pushing the pace in the second half, held on to finish second.
Russian Elena Nurgalieva, the defending champion, recovered from an early fall to win her sixth title in the women's race ahead of twin sister Olesya.
Muzhingi's countryman, Point Chaza, had broken away early and held a lead of more than seven minutes at the halfway mark, which he crossed in 2:36.19, on record pace.
Chaza, however, faded soon after with Muzhingi and Matshipa storming past with 30km to go.
Muzhingi admitted after the race that Chaza had been ordered to set the pace for the rest of the Formula One Bluffs Meat team.
"We sent Point to the front as a ploy, to help set the pace for us," Muzhingi said. "He did a good job, even though it was tough out there."
Matshipa looked to be in control, but Muzhingi's experience showed and he stole clear with 14km remaining to win the 87km ultra-marathon in 5:32.45.
The Zimbabwean had predicted before the race that he would improve Shvetsov's record for the ‘up' run, but he realised going up Polly Shortts, with eight kilometres to go, that he would miss the mark.
"I was aiming to run 5:24 and I was working at it," Muzhingi said. "After halfway I was trying to break away from that guy [Matshipa] but I was in pain.
Muzhingi, who won the ‘down' run the last two years, secured his maiden victory in the ‘up' run to become the first athlete to win three titles in succession since Bruce Fordyce bagged his eighth straight win in 1988.
Matshipa, who was fifth last year, struggled over Polly Shortts, the last of the race's five big hills, but held on to cross the line in 5:34.29.
He said he had fallen ill before the race, which affected his performance in the latter stages. "I tried to catch him [Muzhingi] but I had flu before the race and I had no energy left," Matshipa said.
"I was determined to push the pace, which I did until just before Polly Shortts, but then I had nothing left."
Another South African, Claude Moshiywa, who had faded to seventh last year after taking the early lead, ran a much wiser race to finish third in 5:42.05, holding off Jonas Buud of Sweden by 39 seconds.
Muzhingi said he would have another crack at the record, and was confident he could improve the mark in the next ‘up' run in 2013.
"When I come here next time I will have a different strategy, perhaps one that will help me break 5:24," Muzhingi said.
"I know I have it in me to break the record. I want the record and I will get it. I know it."
LED FROM THE START
In the women's race, the Nurgalieva twins took the lead from the start, and while Elena took a tumble 27km into the race, she recovered quickly to catch her sister and they gradually stretched the gap over South African Farwa Mentoor.
Elena broke away in the dying stages to win in 6:24.11 – the slowest winning time in the women's race since 1999 – and Olesya finished in second position, 14 seconds behind her sibling.
"The was the worst run I've had, and it was my worst result in nine years," Elena said.
"I wasn't feeling well today – I had a problem with my stomach – but of course I'm happy to have won."
Olesya said they had not yet recovered from the Two Oceans 56km ultra-marathon in Cape Town in April, which resulted in their slower-than-usual performances.
"I think Two Oceans hindered us today, because it was only five weeks ago and maybe we didn‘t recover well enough," Olesya said.
"We were both sick after that race and we needed 10 days to recover, so we had only three weeks to prepare for the Comrades."
Mentoor, the first South African woman to finish, struggled in the last third of the race, and was passed by American Kami Semick and Ellie Greenwood of Great Britain, but held on to take fifth place in 6:35.49.
With her fifth place finish, Mentoor became to the first woman to win ten gold medals.
South African runners filled seven of the top 10 positions in the men‘s race, and four of the top 10 places in the women's category.
1 Stephen Muzhingi (ZIM) 5:32.45,
2 Fanie Matshipa (RSA) 5:34.29,
3 Claude Moshiywa (RSA) 5:42.05,
4 Jonas Buud (SWE) 5:42.44,
Kelehe (RSA) 5:43.59,
6 Chasara Masiyatsva (ZIM) 5:44.33,
Mamobolo (RSA) 5:50.17,
8 Charles Tjiane (RSA)5:50.46,
9 Brian Zondi
10 Mncedisi Mkhize (RSA) 5:51.17
1 Elena Nurgalieva (RUS) 6:24.11,
2 Olesya Nurgalieva (RUS)
3 Kami Semick 6:26.24 (US),
4 Ellie Greenwood (GBR) 6:32.46,
5 Farwa Mentoor (RSA) 6:35.49,
6 Irina Vishnevskaya (RUS) 6:42.07,
Elizabeth Hawker (GBR) 6:48.28,
8 Adinda Kruger (RSA) 6:49.01,
Koen (RSA) 6:56.20,
10 Riana van Niekerk (RSA) 6:56.38