The 2014 Comrades Marathon delivered a stunning race with many highlights – and a number of surprises. From an all-South African men’s podium, the Brit who broke the Russian stronghold, Zola’s stunning gold and various milestone finishes, we relive the greatest moments of this year’s race.
Around 14 600 athletes set off from Pietermaritzburg at the start of the 2014 Comrades, and 12 hours later 11 984 had crossed the finish line in Durban to beat the 5:30pm cut-off gun. The stadium was once again filled by an enthusiastic crowd, whose roar of approval was clear as they witnessed a South African 1-2-3 in the men’s race as KZN local Bongmusa Mthembu from Nedbank broke the tape in 5:28:34, followed by teammate and 2012 winner Ludwick Mamabolo (5:33:14), with Gift Kelehe third (5:34:39).
The new champ said afterwards he did not feel any pressure, as he felt there was more focus on Ludwick and on defending champ Claude Moshiywa (who withdrew during the race due to a niggling hamstring injury). “I was confident and ran with the top guys and knew they wouldn’t give up easily, but nobody thought about me, nobody mentioned me,” says Bongmusa, “I think that’s why I was in such a good position – I ran my own race and was comfortable throughout.” He added that winning Comrades had been his dream since he watched it on TV when young, but with a first taste of glory, now he wants more. “This is just the beginning. It’s straight back to work from here because I like to push myself hard and to compete and win more.”
Breaking the Stronghold
In the women’s race, all eyes were on eight-time winner Elena Nurgalieva to see if she could win the race a ninth time and pull level with the Comrades King himself, Bruce Fordyce. However, an incredible late surge saw Britain’s Eleanor Greenwood overtake Elena and twin sister Olesya to claim her first Comrades win in 6:18:15. Her 27:50 split for the last 7km, averaging
3:59/km, was the second-fastest for that section in the entire field – only sixth-placed man Mncedisi Mkhize was faster in 26:56! Elena and Olesya held on for second and third respectively.
Speaking after her win, which saw her close an eight-minute gap with just 17km to go, Eleanor said she had simply run her own race. “I kept to my game plan even though the twins were in the back of my mind. Then with about 5km to go, I saw the timing car ahead and knew I had my chance to catch up,” she said. “The win means everything. This is the highlight of my career!”
With two new winners crowned, another big surprise saw Nedbank’s Caroline Wostmann finish sixth woman and first SA woman in 6:51:43. Her rise to a top 10 position and a gold medal in her fourth Comrades is nothing short of remarkable, having gone from a bronze medal in 2009 (9:17:39), on to a 8:33:29 Bill Rowan in 2011 and then a 7:16:48 Silver in her previous runs. Equally popular finishes came from South Africans Martinique Potgieter and Julanie Basson, who rounded off the women’s top 10 with their ninth and tenth place finishes in 7:00:46 and 7:02:50 respectively.
However, the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for former world record holder over 5000m, the legendary Zola Budd Pieterse, who finished seventh in the women’s race in 6:55:55 to earn her first gold in her second Comrades outing. The 48-year-old’s top-10 finish was bittersweet, though, as her thoughts were constantly on her former coach and dear friend Pierre Korkie, who has been held hostage in Yemen for more than a year. “I have always dreamt of running a gold medal at Comrades, but today I was running for Pierre,” said Zola. “The run was an emotional rollercoaster, and if it wasn’t for the support, I don’t think I would’ve made it to the finish. It was the hardest day of my life, and this gold is for Pierre.”