Updated: January 15, 2016


Lusapho April is expected to spearhead the SA contingent on the European marathon circuit

Lusapho April will lead the South African charge during the northern hemisphere’s spring marathon season as he heads back to his happy hunting ground in Germany, while the rest of the nation’s Olympic contenders will spread themselves across Europe and Asia over the next few months.
April has twice previously won the Hannover Marathon, clocking 2:09:25 in 2011 and setting a course record of 2:08:32 in 2013, and he will attempt to become the first man to win the annual race three times on April 10.
“He runs to win, so that is the focus, but the organisers have set the race up for him to get the course record as well,” April’s manager, Perry Beningfield, said on Thursday.
“Hopefully both objectives can be achieved.”
April had a breakthrough 2013 campaign, taking third place at the prestigious New York Marathon in 2:09:45.
He struggled over the last two seasons, however, finishing 15th at the 2014 Boston Marathon in 2:14:59 and 12th in New York later that year in 2:16:50.
Last season he was 13th in Boston in 2:16:25, and he pulled out of the Berlin Marathon after the 35km mark.
“We had options – notably Boston – but the combination of a fast course and a great willingness from the organisers to bring him back to Hannover carried the day,” Beningfield said.
April hopes to join the Olympic qualifying contest for three available places in the men’s team in Rio in August, which is currently spearheaded by Stephen Mokoka, Lungile Gonqga and Michael Mazibuko.
Though Mokoka set a speedy 2:07:40 at the Shanghai Marathon in November – climbing to fifth place in the all-time SA 42km rankings – he has repeatedly insisted he will not run the classic distance in Rio, with his sights set on the 10 000m track race.
Should Mokoka stick to his plans, Gonqga (2:11:59) and Mazibuko (2:12:29) who took second and third place respectively at the Cape Town Marathon in September, will be the only men to have made firm challenges for positions in the squad since the Sascoc/ASA qualifying window opened in May last year.
With April preparing for another attack on the streets of Hannover, a handful of other athletes will have earlier starts to their Olympic qualifying campaigns, perhaps allowing them to tackle another marathon before the qualifying window closes on July 11, should they falter in their initial attempts.
Former New York Marathon winner Hendrick Ramaala will tackle the Mumbai Marathon this Sunday, 12 years after he won the inaugural edition of the race in India.
The 43-year-old athlete, who hopes to qualify for his fifth Olympic Games, will be joined by Gonqga, Mazibuko and Xolisa Tyali in Mumbai, as the Nedbank Running Club group tackles the race with a team approach.
The 27-year-old Tyali, who set his 2:16:03 career record at the high-altitude Gauteng Marathon in 2014, will be eager to prove he can take his fledgling marathon career to the next level.
Sibusiso Nzima, another member of Ramaala’s Joburg-based training group, will compete at the Seville Marathon next month.
Nzima set his career record of 2:13:42 in Hamburg in 2013, and he will also hope to prove he has the ability to challenge the country’s best marathon specialists.
Elsewhere, Gladwin Mzazi is set to face a world-class line-up at the Dubai Marathon next week.
Having set a relatively disappointing time of 2:17:43 on debut at the 2014 Fukuoka Marathon, Mzazi went on to withdraw from last year’s Cape Town Marathon with a calf injury.
Holding a half-marathon personal best of 1:01:12, however, he remains one of the country’s most promising marathon prospects and the former track star says he is ready to go.
He is up against the strongest field of any of his compatriots, with the Dubai line-up spearheaded by Ethiopian course record holder Ayele Abshero, who clocked 2:04:23 at the 2012 race.
Meanwhile, Jenna Challenor will hope to recover from a troublesome start to her marathon career after battling through her first two races.
The mother of three from Durban clocked 2:41:44 on debut in Mossel Bay in 2014, struggling against wet, windy conditions on an undulating course, and last season she was hit by illness and the death of a close friend on the eve of the Prague Marathon, eventually crossing the line in 2:42:26.
Having overcome a knee injury, she will compete at the Nagoya Marathon in Japan in March as the race for women’s Olympic qualifying spots gains further momentum.
The initial markers have been laid by Christine Kalmer, who clocked a personal best of 2:33:43 in Valencia in November, Mapaseka Makhanya, who covered the 42km distance in 2:37:21 in Shanghai, and Lebo Phalula who set a time of 2:38:55 on her marathon debut in Cape Town.
Irvette van Zyl will make her marathon comeback in London in April, race organisers revealed earlier this week, just seven months after having her first child with husband LJ van Zyl.
She will also attempt to book her place in the 10 000m, in order to keep her options open, while Phalula has said she too wants to race over 25 laps on the track in Rio.
In a wide-open qualifying race, Rene Kalmer, the nation’s fifth fastest woman of all-time (2:29:27 in Berlin in 2014) has recovered from injury concerns that hampered her 2015 campaign.
She is still in discussions with race organisers, in search of a qualifying event, as is Makhanya, who hopes to chop some time off her current mark, while full-time civil engineer Christine Kalmer has apparently not yet decided on another possible race before Rio.
Nolene Conrad, who set a personal best of 2:47:46 in Cape Town last year, says she will make a return to the track as she targets a position in the Olympic squad.
With Tanith Maxwell also possibly throwing her name into the hat, the Rio qualifying contest is expected to be closely fought between the country’s top men and women in the build-up to the Games.

List of SA athletes confirmed for international marathon races between January and April:


Hendrick Ramaala – Mumbai Marathon, India (17 January)
Lungile Gonqga – Mumbai Marathon
Michael Mazibuko – Mumbai Marathon
Xolisa Tyali – Mumbai Marathon
Gladwin Mzazi – Dubai Marathon, United Arab Emirates – (January 22)
Sibusiso Nzima – Seville Marathon, Spain (21 February)


Jenna Challenor – Nagoya Marathon, Japan (13 March)
Irvette van Zyl – London Marathon, England (24 April)