Updated: April 23, 2016

Competing in her first 42km race in 19 months, Irvette van Zyl hopes to take control of the Olympic qualifying contest when she turns out in the elite women’s field at the prestigious London Marathon on Sunday.
Seven SA women have achieved the required standard of 2:45:00 since the domestic qualifying window opened for the Rio Games on May 1 last year.
With one week remaining before the April 30 deadline, Christine Kalmer remains quickest among the qualifiers after clocking 2:33:43 in Valencia in November.
While her first priority this weekend is to cement her place at the top of the qualifying table, Van Zyl said this week she was also eager to become the fifth SA woman to go under the 2:30:00 barrier.
“I am feeling good but a bit stressed. Its been a while since I’ve run a marathon,” Van Zyl said this week.
“But that makes me excited because it feels like a debut again.”
Van Zyl has twice completed the London Marathon.
She finished 18th at the 2012 edition of the prestigious race in 2:33:41 and grabbed 10th spot the following season in 2:31:26, which still stands as her personal best.
Having been hampered by injuries over the last couple of years, and putting her athletics career on the back burner last season to have her first child, her return to form in 2016 has been spectacular.
Her results this year include a 1:12:08 victory at the Johnson Crane half-marathon in Benoni in January, a dominant win in 1:13:14 at the popular Two Oceans half-marathon in Cape Town last month, and a 10km season’s best of 33:24 at the Spar Women’s Challenge race in Cape Town last week, and Van Zyl has given every indication that she is ready to shine in the English capital.
She will be joined in London by Rene Kalmer, who has the pedigree to hold her own at the highest level but has not been at her best since shaking off a persistent hip injury.
A consistent performer, Kalmer has gone under 2:34:00 every year since 2011, but her injury prevented an early qualifying attempt last year.
After being locked in a race against time to regain her fitness, this will be her only chance to book her place in the Olympic marathon team.
With two women having already gone under 2:34:00, and Van Zyl expected to join the race for three available spots, Kalmer will need to bank on her experience to carry her through.
Meanwhile, Kenyan Mary Keitany, a two-time winner of the London and New York marathons, lines up among the favourites for the women’s title in London, along with compatriot Florence Kiplagat, the world half-marathon record holder.
The Ethiopian contingent will be led by defending champion Tigist Tufa and reigning world champion Mare Dibaba.
In another clash of East African giants, the men’s contest is spearheaded by defending champion Eliud Kipchoge, world record holder Dennis Kimetto and former world record holder Wilson Kipsang.
The Kenyan trio will face challenges from former track and cross country star Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and Eritrean world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie.
Veteran Ernst van Dyk, who finished second at the Boston Marathon earlier this week, will compete in the elite men’s wheelchair race.
Elsewhere, Africa Mailola confirmed he would turn out at the Agadir Marathon in Morocco on Sunday, perhaps making the final bid by a South African athlete for a place in the marathon team to Rio.
Mailola set his personal best of 2:17:57 in Cape Town in September 2014, and though a similar performance would meet the 2:19:00 qualifying standard, he will need to go a lot quicker if he hopes to be considered for selection, with 14 other men having ticked the box during the window period.
Even with versatile athlete Stephen Mokoka planning to focus on the track at the Games, three other men have already dipped under 2:12:00.
The national federation has traditionally shown faith in the fastest qualifiers for major championships, but Athletics SA retains the right to select any athletes who achieve the required criteria, while the final team must be approved by Olympic governing body Sascoc.

List of SA athletes who have achieved the qualifying standards for the marathon races at the Olympic Games, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August:

Men (2:19:00)

2:07:40 – Stephen Mokoka (Shanghai, 8 Nov 15)
2:11:27 – Lusapho April (Hannover, 10 Apr 16)
2:11:41 – Sibusiso Nzima (Seville, 21 Feb 16)
2:11:59 – Lungile Gongqa (Cape Town, 20 Sep 15)
2:12:29 – Michael Mazibuko (Cape Town, 20 Sep 15)
2:13:17 – Benedict Moeng (Hamburg, 17 Apr 16)
2:17:12 – Hendrick Ramaala (Cape Town 20 Sep 15)
2:17:26 – Coolboy Ngamole (Mossel Bay, 26 Sep 15)
2:17:26 – Xolisa Tyali (Brighton, 17 Apr 16)
2:17:43 – Desmond Mokgobu (Santiago, 3 Apr 16)
2:17:45 – Mthandazo Qhina (Cape Town, 20 Sep 15)
2:18:37 – Raphael Segodi (Mossel Bay, 26 Sep 15)
2:18:42 – Ntsindiso Mphakathi (Mossel Bay, 26 Sep 15)
2:18:55 – Siyabonga Nkonde (Mossel Bay, 26 Sep 15)

Women (2:45:00)

2:33:43 – Christine Kalmer (Valencia, 15 Nov 15)
2:33:48 – Diana-Lebo Phalula (Enschede, 17 Apr 16)
2:37:12 – Jenna Challenor (Nagoya, 12 Mar 16)
2:37:21 – Mapaseka Makhanya (Shanghai, 08 Nov 15)
2:43:38 – Keneilwe Sesing (Cape Town, 20 Sep 15)
2:44:26 – Caroline Wostmann (New York, 1 Nov 15)
2:45:00 – Zintle Xiniwe (Cape Town, 20 Sep 15)