Can Johannes Continue SPAR Grand Prix Domination?

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The 2019 SPAR Grand Prix Women’s 10km Challenge series has reached its midway point, with Namibia’s Helalia Johannes firmly in the lead after three wins in the first three races. Now, can she make it four from four in the Pretoria leg on 3 August, or will her change of focus open the door to her rivals?

On the 23rd of June 2019, Helalia Johannes (Nedbank Namibia) exceeded expectations when she won the Durban leg of the 2019 SPAR Women’s Challenge series in 30 minutes and 59 seconds, the fastest time ever run by a woman on South African soil. That shattered the course record of 31:18, set by Colleen de Reuck in 2000, and also gave Johannes yet another new Namibian national record, in a year that has seen her post five new national marks across various distances. It also gave her three wins out of three in the SPAR series, after earlier wins in Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

Tadu Naru (Nedbank Ethiopia) was second in 32:36 and three times SPAR Grand Prix winner, Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank Central Gauteng) was third, in 32:57. The top three all received 10 Grand Prix bonus points for finishing faster than last year’s winning time of 33:07.

Johannes now has 90 points, Naru has 86, and Van Zyl, for whom this year’s Durban leg was her first podium finish this year, has 78. They have opened up a big gap between themselves and the chasing pack, with 2017 Grand Prix winner Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts Free State), who finished seventh in Durban, currently in fourth place on the log with 67 points.

After the Durban race, Van Zyl made it clear that her priority had been earning bonus points. “I knew I couldn’t keep up with Helalia, but I was running for bonus points,” she said. “As long as you earn bonus points, you can keep in touch with the top runners. If one of them doesn’t run all six races, you are right up there with them.”

Grand Prix coordinator Ian Laxton agrees that bonus points could decide the outcome of the Grand Prix title. “Anyone who doesn’t run all six races will battle to win. The top three are so close that if one drops out, another is lying in wait for her,” he said.

Johannes, who is the reigning Commonwealth Games marathon champion, said after the Durban race that she would be turning her attention to training for the marathon at the IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar on 27 September. “I have been concentrating on shorter distances this year, but I will be doing more long-distance training from now on,” she said. “I don’t know how that will affect me if I run in Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg in the SPAR series.”

Van Zyl said the presence of international runners like Johannes and Naru was doing much for road running in South Africa. “They are forcing us all to run faster,” she said. “But it will be interesting to see what happens in the altitude races, in Pretoria and Johannesburg. And we are all really going to struggle to get bonus points next year!”

The Durban race was one of four in which juniors can earn points in their own category. Naru, who is 18, has an 11-point lead, with 20 points from the two races so far. In the 40-49 category, Bulelwa Simae (Boxer WP) leads the category with 14 points from three races, with Janene Carey (Boxer KZN) in second position on 10 points. The leader in the 50-59 category is former Comrades Marathon gold medallist Grace de Oliveira (Murray & Roberts KZN), with 11 points. Olga Howard (Nedbank WP) leads the 60+ category with 23 points.

In the club competition, Nedbank is firmly in the lead with 424 points, followed by Maxed Elite Zimbabwe with 138. Boxer is in third place with 132 points.

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