Wide open races for Two Oceans titles

Updated: April 14, 2017

​Returning to the race with a third straight victory on the line, Caroline Wostmann believes the women’s contest at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon on Saturday will be tougher than it has been for the last couple of years.
Wostmann won the 56km race in Cape Town in 2015 and 2016 after sitting back in the first half and closing down the leaders in the latter stages, but her winning times on both occasions were relatively slow.
The 3:44:44 she needed to win last year’s event was the slowest time required for victory at the race in 15 years, though the new course was considered more difficult than the old route.
Lining up against a field packed with current and former standard marathon specialists, and with her sights set on the 87km Comrades Marathon taking place just seven weeks later, Wostmann admitted her sit-and-kick tactics might not have the desired effect on this occasion.
Should she win, it would be a historic performance, and Wostmann would become only the fourth athlete (and the first in 18 years) to earn three successive Two Oceans titles, but she admitted it was unlikely.
“I think it will be faster this year,” Wostmann said this week.
“Jenna (Challenor), Tanith (Maxwell) and the Ethiopians will probably make sure it’s a fast pace, which is going to make it difficult.”
Maxwell has paid her dues, and the former Olympian will be hungry for victory after finishing third in 2015 and second in 2016, while Challenor will hope to cause an upset on debut.
The international charge is expected to be led by another debutant, Maryna Damantsevich of Belarus, who set her standard marathon best of 2:30:07 in Warsaw two years ago, and Zimbabwean Tabitha Tsatsa, who was crowned 2013 Two Oceans champion after Russian athlete Natalia Volgina was stripped of the title for a doping violation.
After winning the Cape Town Marathon last year in a personal best 2:36:13, Tish Jones of Great Britain has proved she can be competitive in the unpredictable Western Cape conditions, though her disastrous 6:40:26 on debut last season leaves questions about her ability to go the distance.
American athletes Sarah Bard, who was fourth at the 100km World Championships in Winschoten in 2015, and Devon Yanko, who was seventh at Two Oceans two years ago, will also hope to make an impact. Alemtsehay Kakissa of Ethiopia, a former winner of the 68km Legends ultra-marathon in the Eastern Cape, will be eager to improve on her ninth-place finishes at Two Oceans in 2014 and 2016, while her compatriot Elisabeth Arsedo will hope to flaunt her speed on debut.
Meanwhile, in the men’s race, defending champion Mike Fokoroni of Zimbabwe and compatriot Collen Makaza should toe the line as the pre-race favourites.
Fokoroni’s time last year (3:13:33) was nearly 10 minutes outside the race record and it was the slowest winning performance since 1994, but the men’s contest is also likely to be a fair bit quicker this weekend, provided the weather plays its part.
Fokoroni, a former Olympic marathon runner, and Makaza, a two-time world 50km champion, hold nine Two Oceans gold medals between them and they are expected to launch a formidable assault.
Leading another strong contingent of athletes from Lesotho, Moeketsi Mosuhli will go in search of his maiden victory at the annual race, after racking up five gold medals and three podium finishes. He will be supported by countryman and three-time gold medallist Warinyane Lebopo.
The local charge will be spearheaded by in-form veteran Johannes Kekana, a former All Africa Games marathon champion, and Hendrick Ramaala, a previous winner of the prestigious New York Marathon who finished second on his Two Oceans debut in 2014.
Other contenders in the wide open race include Ludwick Mamabolo, who won the Comrades Marathon in 2012 and has shown potential over the shorter 56km distance with two Two Oceans gold medals. If the leaders struggle in the closing stages, the powerful, experienced athlete is likely to be ready to pounce.
Another local athlete, Lungile Gongqa, holds an impressive marathon best of 2:11:59, though he has perhaps pushed himself too hard by over-racing in the last few years, and he will need to dig deep to give himself a chance.
The East African contingent will be led by Ethiopian Eshetu Bekele, a former winner of the Mandela Day Marathon in Pietermaritzburg, and Kenyan athlete Moses Kurgat, who was sixth at the Cape Town Marathon last season in 2:13:16 after settling for 11th position in his Two Oceans debut.
In the half-marathon race, Namakoe Nkhasi of Lesotho will return to defend his title against a full-strength local field.
Nkhasi, who won the men’s 21km contest last year in 1:03:38, is up against four-time winner Stephen Mokoka, national 5 000m record holder Elroy Gelant, former SA champion Lucky Mohale, and the likes of Gladwin Mzazi, Sibusiso Nzima, Joel Mmone, David Manja and Vuyisile Tshoba.
Irvette van Zyl is also back in an attempt to retain the women’s half-marathon crown after securing victory last year in 1:13:14.
She faces a field including Lebogang Phalula, who won the race in 2015, in-form athlete Keneilwe Sesing, Zimbabwean star Rutendo Nyahora and Olympic marathon runner Christine Kalmer.

* The race will be broadcast live from 5.30am on SABC 2