SA team to compete at 100km World Champs

Updated: September 29, 2016

Comrades Marathon ‘down’ run record holder David Gatebe will form part of the SA team at the 100km World Championships

A South African team will turn out at the IAU 100km World Championships for the first time in five years, with a full-strength squad apparently preparing  for the annual ultra-distance showpiece in Los Alcazares, Spain in November.While the country’s top ultra runners have reclaimed their dominance of prestigious domestic races in recent years, racking up victories at the 89km Comrades and 56km Two Oceans events, a national team has not been sent to the international 100km spectacle since 2011.

Hoping to make an impact with a powerful five-man squad, coach John Hamlett said on Thursday he was confident of their chances with four Comrades winners – David Gatebe, Bongmusa Mthembu, Ludwick Mamabolo and Gift Kelehe – set to be joined by Rufus Photo, one of the country’s most promising ultra runners.

“The guys are really keen,” said Hamlett, who coaches Gatebe and Kelehe, and will form part of team management in Spain.

“David and Gift will be spending six to eight weeks in the mountains (at a high altitude camp in Dullstroom) to prepare, and the other three guys will be training with their respective coaches.”

Gatebe displayed spectacular form earlier this year, shattering Russian Leonid Shvetsov’s nine-year-old Comrades ‘down’ run record by more than two minutes when he clocked 5:18:19 in Durban in May.

Also a former winner of the Two Oceans, he possesses the speed, endurance and mental strength to put up a fight for a medal at the global championships, which consists of 10 laps of a 10km loop.

The rest of the team will also be confident of gunning for podium places, and they will have the added incentive of earning a medal in the team competition.

Mamabolo, who took the ‘down’ run title in 2012, finished second behind Gatebe at Comrades this year, and Mthembu, who won the 2014 ‘down’ run, was third this season.

Kelehe won the Comrades ‘up’ run last year, and though Photo has not yet won a major ultra title, he has earned three Comrades gold medals in the last four years and will hope to prove his potential against the world’s best.

Between them, the SA team have secured a total of 19 Comrades gold medals, making them a formidable unit, and Hamlett believed Bruce Fordyce’s 27-year-old SA 100km record (6:25:07) could be on the line.

If they hit their straps on the day, he felt they could even give Japanese athlete Takahiro Sunada’s 18-year-old global mark (6:13:33) a shake.

“It’s a strong team and hopefully we can come home with a win, or even a world record,” Hamlett said.

South Africa have previously secured three individual medals in the open division at the 100km World Championships.

Cornet Matomane took bronze in the men’s race in Torhout in 1993 and Helene Joubert earned silver in the women’s contest in Winschoten two years later.

Lindsay van Aswegen was the last individual SA medallist, grabbing bronze in the open women’s race at the 2011 edition of the spectacle, also held in Winschoten.