Gongqa and Challenor lead local charge

Updated: April 15, 2017

‚ÄčLungile Gongqa and Jenna Challenor made successful steps up in distance on Saturday, with the standard marathon specialists finishing as the first South African athletes in the men’s and women’s races at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town.
Though Gongqa had previously made his ultra-marathon debut at the 2012 edition of the race, when he finished 29th, he had since focussed on the 42km distance, clocking a personal best of 2:11:59 at the Cape Town Marathon in 2015 and qualifying for last year’s Rio Olympics where he dropped out of the race.
Making a triumphant return, the Eastern Cape athlete waited patiently in a large lead group for most of the 56km race, and he laid down the hammer after the final big climb up Constantia Nek to shake off a challenge from Warinyane Lebopo of Lesotho.
Gongqa won the race in 3:09:43, crossing the line 38 seconds ahead of Lebopo, who secured the fourth gold medal of his Two Oceans career.
While Gongqa racked up the first SA victory in the men’s race in four years, the foreign contingent dominated the top 10, taking the majority of the gold medals.
Former Comrades Marathon winner Bongmusa Mthembu, who finished seventh in 3:14:44, and Siphiwe Ndlela, who grabbed ninth spot in 3:17:06, were the only other South Africans to feature.
In a change of fortunes, local athletes dominated the top 10 in the women’s contest, but Maryna Damantsevich of Belarus romped to the R250 000 first prize.
Damantsevich controlled the race from start to finish to bag the title in 3:37:13, despite falling and scraping her knees at the start.
Challenor, also making her ultra-marathon debut, ran a well-judged race to finish second in 3:47:32.
Former Olympian Tanith Maxwell was the only other lady under four hours, clocking 3:55:42 to lift the veterans’ crown.
Aside from Challenor and Maxwell, five other SA women earned gold medals.
Caroline Wostmann, who won the previous two editions of the race, withdrew shortly after the 10km with a hamstring injury.
She was left in a race against time to recover for her Comrades Marathon ‘up’ run title defence in just seven weeks’ time.
Earlier on Saturday, in the half-marathon contest, Namakoe Nkhasi strengthened his grip on local road races, charging to his second straight Two Oceans title.
Nkhasi, who represented Lesotho at last year’s Olympics, set a course record of 1:03:15 to hold off countryman Khoarahlane Seutlaoli by half a minute.
While she was 39 seconds outside her winning time last year, Irvette van Zyl also defended her title in the women’s 21km race in 1:13:53.
Producing her best performance of the season thus far, Van Zyl finished 34 seconds ahead of compatriot Nolene Conrad, who grabbed second spot.

* Full results are available in our Results section