Sibeko, Bothma take national titles but problems plague Durban marathon

13 March 2023 - 15:01 By Matshelane Mambolo in Durban
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Annie Bothma won the Durban International Marathon to clinch the national title.
Annie Bothma won the Durban International Marathon to clinch the national title.
Image: Ziyaad Douglas/Gallo Images

The fact that both the men’s and women’s records fell at Sunday’s Durban International Marathon would seem to confirm the assertion that the race’s course is exceptionally fast.

Lesotho’s Tebello Ramakongona and Annie Bothma set new times of 2:10:11 and 2:30:31 respectively for the three-year old race that this year doubled as the 2023 Athletics South Africa (ASA) Marathon Championship, in unfavourable weather and organisational conditions.

Simon Sibeko became the ASA national men’s champion, taking second place overall in 2:12:06.

The reality, though, was the winning times were slower than what had been anticipated with the organisers able to keep the $20,000 (about R364,000) they put up for the male and female runners crossing the finish line in under 2:08:10 and 2:26:50.

Reflecting on the race and its logistics, KwaZulu-Natal Athletics president Steve Mkasi admitted there was much they still need to do to have Durban International Marathon reach the world-class levels they aspire to.

“I think we had a good event and we are aware there is room for improvement. We got the course records and especially for the women, I think it has been a long time since a 2:30 was run on South African soil,” Mkasi said.

“That’s something worth celebrating. But of course we are disappointed we did not get to give the prizes we wanted to in terms of the World Championships qualifying times not being met.”

There were some disappointing runs, with the highly acclaimed East African runners getting nowhere near their PBs, while the locals who were expected to push for World Championship qualification got lost along the route.

“When we invited the athletes, we expected them to do far better than they did. Take Tumelo [Motlagale] for example,” Mkasi said. “After he ran a 2:11 to win last year’s race, we believed he would give an improved performance this time round and run much faster. But we are not in a position to know how the athletes’ training is going.”

Central North West athlete Motlagale, who was national champion last year but ran a disappointing 2:17:06 on Sunday to finish fourth overall and second in the ASA championships.

“The international athletes we invited came highly recommended with good times. But did we get the return on investment? I am not really sure.”

Ethiopian Chaltu Bedo Negashu came in a close second in the women’s race, followed by last year’s winner Shelmith Nyawira Muriuki of Kenya, while Kenya’s Cornelius Yego was second in the men’s race.

The big disappointment was Samuel Naibei who was paid a R10,000 appearance fee and expected to smash the field. But the Kenyan did not even finish the race for undisclosed reasons. Compatriot Sheila Chepkoech, who was paid the same appearance fee, ran a 2:42:30 to finish sixth in the women’s race.

There were organisational failings that could have contributed to Naibei not finishing, with Central Gauteng Athletics’ Gladwin Mzazi quitting the race after getting lost at the promenade.

“It was very bad,” he said afterwards “I saw no reason to continue after we ran the wrong way.”

Regan Magwai of Gauteng North and local men’s runner Siboniso Sikhakhane, who was a serious challenger for the national title, were among those who ran the wrong way due to lack of marshalling and ended up clocking an extra 2km. Their anger afterwards knew no bounds.

Mkasi acknowledged KZN Athletics will have to improve on the marshalling next time round, though he felt the athletes should not have got lost. “Some of the athletes who got lost were being paced and they followed the athlete who should have known where to go.”

The reality is athletes should never be blamed for not finding their way on a route, particularly in rainy conditions, like Sunday’s, where visibility can be poor and marshalling should have been on point.

Mkasi said there was no marshalling at some points because the organisers were let down by some of their partners who were meant to man water tables. The traffic department, he said, stopped some of their suppliers from accessing the route, leaving the race bereft of some of the necessary supplies.

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