Nedbank running club fields most competitive Comrades field to date

The Nedbank running club’s famous green Nike vests have dominated running events around the country, and even more so, the Comrades Marathon, dubbed the ultimate human race. 2024 is no different and at this years Comrades Marathon, the club has a record 48 athletes entered under elite status and will be looking for more than just a win.

“Without a doubt, this is the strongest and most competitive team we have ever had at the Comrades Marathon,” says Nick Bester, National team manager of the Nedbank running club and former race winner. “Besides having the defending champion of both the up run and down runs, we have multiple Comrades gold medallists that will take part this year as well as some very interesting novices who can perhaps spoil the party on the day.”

Leading the team will undoubtedly be the duo of Tete Dijana and Edward Mothibi. Coming into this year’s race, Mothibi is the defending up run champion with the race last going up to Pietermaritzburg in 2019, whilst Dijana has won the last two Comrades down runs back-to-back, which included last year’s record-breaking run. The two train together and are known as the happy bunch with gold medallist teammates Joseph Manyedi, Dan Matshailwe and Johannes Makgetla also returning this year.

Also returning will be Piet Wiersma. Referred to last year as the unknown dutchman, the youngster of the team finished 2nd on debut, only 3 seconds behind Dijana and this year has focussed solely on the Comrades Marathon, having prepared for the race in Kenya. “This year we have had athletes focussing on the race from all different corners of the globe,” said Bester. “Tete and the other guys had their base in Dullstroom for the high altitude and Piet chose to train in Kenya for the bulk of his Comrades prep.

Giving a serious attempt at Comrades this year will be Onalenna Khonkhobe who made a name for himself leading the 2022 Comrades Marathon all the way to Fields Hill. He has since grown in stature and this year was the runaway winner of the Two Oceans Marathon. Throw in Russian debutant Nikolay Volkov amongst many other Nedbank stars who will be in action, and the 2024 Comrades Marathon will be a treat for viewers watching at home on TV and for spectators along the route.

In the women’s race, South Africa’s Adele Broodryk leads the Nedbank running club challenge. Debuting in 2022, Broodryk finished 3rd and in last years race improved by one spot to not only finish 2nd, but run an amazing 5:56, to become the 3rd fastest female ever on the down run. Teammates Deanne Laubscher, Galaletsang Mekgoe and Slindile Chili will be looking to join Broodryk amongst the top 10 finishers on the day.

There is also an extraordinarily strong Nedbank running club international contingent coming down which will be led by Polish athlete Dominika Stelmach who is a multiple Comrades Marathon gold medallist. Ireland’s Caitriona Jennings finished on the podium at her debut Comrades up run in 2019 and will be looking for another repeat of that after a strong 7th place at this years Two Oceans Marathon. Running her first Comrades this year will be American Andrea Pomaranski who has been taking training advice from Bester. With a 2:31 marathon best and two sub 2:35 marathon finishers in 2024 already, Pomaranski looks to do something big on 9 June.

‘I worked intensively with Andrea and especially on her overall strength to make sure she can manage the uphill’s which will be complemented by her incredible speed as an Elite marathoner. What impressed me from her is that Andrea is listening and did do all the strength and cross training according to the program and reduced her total running mileage per week. I am expecting Andrea to be up there with the leaders on race day! ‘said Bester

“We have assembled the best possible team to date for this years Comrades and thanks to all of our sponsors, we have given all the athletes all they need in terms of preparations and camps, so all that is left now is the athletes to do their part and once again paint the streets green on 9 June,” said Bester.

Most Memorable Comrades

Most Memorable Comrades

The 2019 Comrades Marathon will be remembered for many reasons, but the two standout performances of the year were undoubtedly those of men’s winner Edward Mothibi and women’s winner Gerda Steyn. – BY SEAN FALCONER

Winning the Comrades Marathon is considered the pinnacle of achievement in South African road running, and adding that title to your name opens the door to fame, media attention, sponsorships, endorsements and more. However, the way that Edward Mothibi and Gerda Steyn won the Comrades titles in 2019 went a step further, and their performances in the Up Run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg will long live in the memory.

After an eventful men’s race that featured several changes of the lead and then an exciting breakaway group of five contenders, it eventually came down to Mothibi, who finished fourth last year in his debut Comrades, going head-to-head with three-time winner and double defending champ Bongmusa Mthembu as they hit the final ‘Big Five’ climb on Polly Shortts. With most people following the race expecting Mthembu to once again use his strength on the hills to pull clear, it looked like things would go according to script as he opened a small gap on the challenger, but instead it was Mothibi who threw in a surge of his own and made the decisive move on the notoriously steep hill.

The old adage once again proved true, that the first runner to crest the top of Polly’s with 8km to go will go on to win the race. By the top, Mothibi had pulled 20 seconds clear of Mthembu, and he then powered his way to the finish at the Scottsville Race Track in Pietermaritzburg to claim the win in 5:31:33. Mthembu finished 25 seconds adrift in 5:31:58, with World 100km record holder Nao Kazami of Japan taking third in 5:39:16 in his debut Comrades.

After the race, Mothibi said that he had dug deep into his reserves of strength to overcome Mthembu up Polly’s, but that he had actually surprised himself by winning: “I didn’t plan to win; I just wanted a gold medal! I gave it all. I just pushed harder.” For his part, a gracious Mthembu conceded that the better man on the day won, and he added, “I could see Edward had a plan… everything I did he could respond to.”

Other notable finishers in the men’s race included Justin Chesire coming home sixth to become the first Kenyan to win a Comrades gold medal, and Zimbabwean Marko Mambo finishing eighth and first veteran. Also, in a heartbreaking finale, Nkosikhona Mhlakwana made a late surge to overtake Gordon Lesetedi and Siya Mqambeli to go into ninth position with just a hundred metres to go, only to stumble and falter, then watch helplessly as the last gold medal eluded him. Further back in the field, 1995 winner Shaun Meiklejohn finished his 30th Comrades in 6:56:16, while the two leading Comrades medallists of all time, Barry Holland and Louis Massyn, achieved their 47th consecutive medals in 10:29:42 and 11:51:52 respectively.

Majestic Gerda
The early leader in the women’s race was 2017 Down Run winner Ann Ashworth, who was on pace to run a 6:03 and smash Elena Nurgalieva’s Up Run record of 6:09:24, but it was Gerda Steyn who took control of the race just before the 30km mark, then flew up Botha’s Hill and further extending her lead to just under two minutes over Ashworth by the halfway mark in Drummond. For the rest of the race she serenely extended her lead, never looking troubled, and reached the finish in an incredible 5:58:53, smiling, waving and even doing a jig on the line.

Steyn had won the Two Oceans Marathon for a second time just seven weeks before the Comrades, where she missed Frith van der Merwe’s course record by just 53 seconds after deciding not to push too hard and thus save her legs for the Comrades. It didn’t look like the 56km Cape ultra had any adverse effect on her Comrades performance, however, as she became the first woman ever to complete the Up Run in less than six hours. Reminiscent of Van der Merwe’s incredible winning run in 1991, when she finished 15th overall in the Comrades field, Steyn came home 17th overall, winning by a margin of nearly 19 minutes over second-placed Alexandra Morozova of Russia (6:17:40), who was also second in 2017 and third last year. Third place went to debutant Caitriona Jennings of Ireland in 6:24:12, with Ashworth taking fourth in 6:27:15.

Steyn’s performance earned her a cool R1.2 million in prize money – R500,000 for first place, and incentives of R500,000 for a new course record and R200,000 as first South African finisher. Her winning time is the fourth-fastest ever run by a woman in the Comrades (although the three faster times were all on the Down Run), and she is just the fourth woman ever to win the Two Oceans and Comrades in the same year, after Van der Merwe (1989), Elena Nurgalieva (2004 and 2012) and Caroline Wöstmann (2015). After the race, Steyn said, “It is a dream come true! Many years of hard work came together today. It’s a real blessing… it’s the biggest achievement I can ask for.”