While Givemore Mudzinganyama landed ‘the big fish’ to win the men’s title at the 2023 edition of the Totalsports Two Oceans 56km Ultra Marathon, the women’s race was once again a triumph for Gerda Steyn, who raced to a second consecutive course record, and an unprecedented fourth successive win in ‘The World’s Most Beautiful Marathon.’
Steyn simply had too much speed and strength for the valiant Ethiopian quartet of Amelwork Bosho, Yeshiemebet Nguse, Tinebeb Ali and Ashakech Yami, who claimed four Two Oceans gold medals for their country – another first in Two Oceans history.
While Steyn’s husband, Duncan Ross, is an airline pilot, it was the Free State-born athlete who was doing the flying in this race. Although slowing slightly on the race’s biggest climb up Constantia Nek, she had enough in the bag to be able to savour her moment of victory, high-fiving fans in the finish straight as she came home in 3 hours 29 minutes and six seconds. This shaved another 36 seconds off the stunning 3:29:42 she posted last year to finally eclipse the legendary Frith van der Merwe’s magic mark of 3:30:36, which had stood since 1989.
The new course record doubled Steyn’s R250,000 first prize to half a million, thanks to the record incentive of R250,000 put up by title sponsor Totalsports, and the win also earned her the use of a Kia car for twelve months, both in South Africa and abroad, thanks to the event’s official vehicle sponsor.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotional at the finish,” remarked Steyn in the post-race press conference. “My whole family was here to welcome me. I just love this race, and will certainly be back next year, and hopefully for many years to come.
“My main aim was simply to go for my fourth win. I was racing head-to-head with the Ethiopian athletes for the first half and on Chappies before I was able to move ahead. But I thought the record might come if I maintained a good pace. At 50km, I worked out that if I ran 3:30 per kilometre to the finish, I still would still have a few extra seconds to enjoy the moment!” she added.
Remarkably, Steyn did those calculations in her head while running at a high intensity, after 50km of tough racing, no doubt using skills learnt in her former career as a qualified quantity surveyor. “This was a much more enjoyable race than last year’s one,” admitted Steyn. “I did experience a tough patch on Constantia Nek, but nothing like the ‘dark place’ I had to run through last year. But looking back, I’m pleased I had to endure that last year, as it gave me another tool which I can use in racing.”
Making the Right Move
Zimbabwe-born and Johannesburg-based Mudzinganyama came into the 2023 Two Oceans with a limited record in the event. He finished 12th in the 2015 Half Marathon, and then earned an impressive runners-up medal behind Kane Reilly in the 2018 Long Trail race. After experiencing considerable success as a trail athlete, including a hattrick of wins at the Cape Town Peace Trail 21km and partnering Edwin Sesipi to victory in the AFRICANX Trailrun, Mudzinganyama pondered his future as an athlete.
“I love trail running, but you can’t easily make a living in that discipline,” admitted Mudzinganyama. “So, after working at the ASICS shoe store in Johannesburg, I opted to become a full-time professional athlete and joined up with Hendrick Ramaala and his club, Entsika.”
But it was a lesson in fishing that was responsible for Mudzinganyama’s path to Oceans glory. “I was struck by what our manager said at our club’s end of year meeting last November,” said Mudzinganyama. “He said that while you could earn some smaller income with running regular shorter-distance road races, if you can ‘catch one big fish a year,’ you could make a real living. He was talking about the big races in South Africa, including Two Oceans, Comrades, Cape Town Marathon and Soweto Marathon. I liked what he said, and decided to try to catch my fish in the Two Oceans! Training with Coach Ramaala’s running group at Zoo Lake has made a big difference and prepared me well for today.”
Close Racing at the Top
Mudzinganyama’s win was a product of good planning, great timing and superb execution, but it didn’t come easily. Shaking off charismatic Nedbank athlete, Dan Matshailwe, in the final quarter of the climb to Constantia Nek, Mudzinganyama surged past Maxed Elite’s race leader, Lesotho’s Lebello Mopenyane, on the approach to Kirstenbosch. However, Matshailwe’s race was not yet run, and he came back strongly, and also in the mix was last year’s runner-up, Nkosikhona Mhlakwana, who finally found his race legs and was flying through the field to set up a thrilling finish for the second successive year.
It was anyone’s race, but Mudzinganyama was as good as his name, and ‘gave a little more’ when he needed it most. Although the Mpumalanga-based Matshailwe put in a storming finish after struggling with his quadriceps earlier, the Zimbabwean was never going to concede victory and he held on in superb style to claim victory in 3:09:56. Matshailwe crossed the line 23 seconds later, with Mhakwana 21 seconds further back in third.
Remarkably, just as was the case last year, the first two across the line were Two Oceans Ultra Marathon debutants, with Mudzinganyama racing further than he has ever done before. Entiska gained their second gold medal with Msawenkosi Mthalane coming home fourth, 40 seconds clear of Mopenyane, who had led race from shortly before halfway until he was overhauled by Mudzinganyama just over 5 km from home. Six clubs shared the 10 gold medals on offer, with Maxed Elite bagging three golds, Ensika and Nedbank two each, and one each from Hollywood, Phantane and Murray & Roberts.
Fighting for the Podium
Meanwhile, the women’s race was an intense affair in the early stages as the lead quintet jockeyed for position. Steyn seemed to have made the decisive break on Chapman’s Peak, but the game Ethiopian athlete, Ali, momentarily regained the joint lead with her on the Chappies descent. Once Ali conceded defeat and dropped back again, there was little doubt as to the destiny of the 2023 winner’s trophy as Steyn powered away again, but the battle for the rest of the podium places delivered its share of excitement.
After a deliberately conservative start, another Ethiopian, Bosho, moved up through the field, overhauling her compatriots in the final quarter of the race to move into second place. Running strongly, she looked certain for second, but a fast-finishing Carla Molinaro, who returned to Cape Town and the land of her birth at the end of last year ‘to find some sun’ after an extended period in Great Britain, appeared out of nowhere, closing fast on Bosho.
In the end, Bosho clinched second in 3:41:29, a massive 12 minutes 23 seconds behind Steyn, but just nine seconds clear of a flying Molinaro. “That was the run of my life,” said the delighted Molinaro, who raced through the standard marathon mark in Hout Bay in 2:46, just a few seconds off her personal best for that distance. “I can’t believe my race today – it was just perfect!”