Mamabolo brings Comrades home
Ludwick Mamabolo has brought the Comrades Marathon title back to South Africa.
After foreign runners had dominated the country's premier ultra-marathon for seven years, the 35-year-old bank employee yesterday made it a home victory, becoming the first South African winner since Sipho Ngomane in 2005.
But the women's race was again dominated by Russia's Elena Nurgalieva, who ran to her seventh win.
Mamabolo ran a patient and strategic race, judging the route and his opponents to perfection. At the finish, he fell to the ground in tears and exhaustion, having reached Kingsmead cricket ground in Durban 5hrs 31min 5sec after starting in Pietermaritzburg.
Afterwards, he said he had done it for the country.
"It is a dream come true," Mamabolo said. "It pained me every day when I would look at the papers and see that no South African had been tipped to win."
Zimbabwean Stephen Muzhingi, who had won the three previous Comrades, had been tipped to do so again. He was sixth.
Another South African, Mthembu Bongmusa, was second in 5:32.40, with five local athletes finishing among the top 10.
Mamabolo kept in the bunch early in the race, carefully assessing the breathing patterns and energy levels of the other runners. He stayed calm, avoided the TV cameras on the route and waited for the right time to pull away.
Until halfway, South African marathon champion and Comrades novice Gert Thys led the race. From the way he started he was either going to post a record time or fade away. He dropped out after 60km.
Said Mamabolo: "When we reached halfway I saw that I was stronger than everybody. So I held back until I approached the last 42km and then decided to move faster.
"When I caught the leading bunch, with Muzhingi, was when I started believing that I could win. I stayed with them and listened to their rhythms. I felt so confident and told myself: 'This is my race.'
"The last 38km I said: "No, let me go out and see if I can push for the lead.'"
With 18km to go, Mamabolo tilted his head and concentrated on the finish line, never looking back.
In the women's race, Nurgalieva, who won in 6:07.12, brushed off challenges from other foreign athletes, including fellow Russian Natalia Volgina and British ultra-marathon specialist Eleanor Greenwood, who was second in 6:08.24.
Kerry Koen was the first South African woman home, taking sixth position in 6:45:44, with three local athletes securing gold medals.
Zola Budd and Comrades legend Bruce Fordyce crossed the finishing line together in 8:06:09.
Mamabolo made up for some lost earnings with his prize of R300000 [see adjacent story], which was also the award for the women's winner.