Johannes Kekana and Dimakatso Morobi were crowned winners of the South Africa Marathon Championships staged in eThekwini on Sunday.
Billed as the qualifier for the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki, Finland, the event marked the revival of the annual championship last contested in 2001. It was dedicated to the late Ian Syster who won the previous contest also in eThewini and tragically died in a car crash.
Eager to qualify for Helsinki, Kani Simons surged ahead after barely four kilometres. Graham Malinga and Mech Mothuli caught up with him at 8km and together they passed the 10km mark in just over 31 minutes.
The fast pace eventually took its toll as Sipho Ngomane and then Doctor Mtsweni caught and overtook the trio. Ngomane and Mtsweni crossed the half way mark in 1:08:00. They looked set to take the top two places until 34km when Johannes Kekana surged past them and never looked back. Kekana won the race in 2:19:16. Ngomane (2:19:54) was runner up ahead of Justinus Gantsi (2:21:41).
The All Africa Games champions had mixed feelings about his victory. "This was a wonderful course and the weather was ideal for a fast time and I am happy that I won. My only regret is that I trained for this race for a mere four weeks. Had I begun training two months earlier, perhaps I would have achieve the World Championships qualifier (2:12)," said Kekana.
Ngomane (23) was quite chuffed with his performance. "I have given up running the Comrades (ultra) marathon (89km). I want to concentrate on the standard marathon, so that I can compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics," Ngomane revealed.
Meanwhile Eunice Nhlapo led the women's race until half way before Tannith Maxwell and then Dimakatso Morobi surged past her after the half way mark.
Morobi made a decisive break at 32km and went onto win in 2:50:14. Nhlapo
(2:53:54) was runner up ahead of Lindsay van Aswegan (3:07:56) and Maxwell (3:08:43).
"I am not used to running three times round a circuit. I find it mentally straining. However if that is how the World championships route is, I will have to get used to. I hope to get a race in May and qualify for Helsinki. Here we lack the competition that would propel us to qualify (2:36)," said Morobi.
Also a 10km race
Earlier on, Shadrack Hoff (29:46) needed a spirited sprint at the end of the 10km race to hold off the challenge from Sivuyile Dlongwana (29:49), while Zolile Bhitane (30:24) was third. Lesotho's Mamoketse Lechela (38.00) won the women's race, with Diane Sandford (39.18) and Jenine Carey (40:11) second and third respectively.
"This is my last race before the 10km Championships Puerto Rico next week. I am confident that with stiffer competition in San Juan I should be able to better my career best of 27:50 which I run in Qatar in 2002," Hoff reckons.
Meanwhile the revival of the national marathon championship was coupled by a pledge from Harmony Gold Athletics Club President Ferdi Dippenaar, to work together with Athletics South Africa (ASA) to develop road running.
"We support and acknowledge ASA's contribution to improving athletics in the country. We will pursue our shared vision of uplifting the image of South African road running both here and abroad," says Dippenaar.
Mark Ouma for the IAAF
1 Johannes Kekana 2:19:16
2 Sipho Ngomane 2:19:54
3 Justinus Gantsi 2:21:41
4 Lebogang Sseabi 2:22:23
5 Joseph Masuku 2:22:34
6 Siphiwe Ntantiso 2:22:43
7 Vusi Sokhela 2:24:45
8 Daniel Leburu 2:24:57
9 Doctor Mtsweni 2:25:49
10Samuel Makamu 2:26:06
1 Dimakatso Morobi 2:50:14
2 Eunice Nhlapo 2:53:54
3 Lindsey van Aswegen 3:07:56
4 Tannith Maxwell 3:08.43
5 Betty Phungwayon 3:11:13
6 Sarah-Jane Khumalo 3:13:00
7 Izelle Cardew 3:14:47
8 Kaolin Woods 3:17:25
9 Thembisa Majogo 3:27:06
10 Jenny Sutton 3:29:52
1 Shadrack Hoff 29:46
2 Sivuyile Dlongwana 29:46
3 Zolile Bhitane 30.24
1 Mamoketse Lechela (Lesotho) 38.00
2 Diane Sandford 39.18
3 Jenine Carey 40:11