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Khelehe and Kolpakova win Comrades marathon

Mark Ouma for IAAF 

16 June 2001 – Durban – Bouncing back from separate tragedies, Andrew Khelehe (South Africa) and Elvira Kolpakova (Russia) won the men’s and women’s races at the Comrades Marathon in Durban, South Africa on Saturday. 

At the crack of dawn, an all-time record entry of 15,588 athletes set off on the 89 km “down run” from Pietermaritzburg to the South African Indian Ocean port city of Durban. Setting a blistering pace Charles Vilakazi (South Africa), reached the half way stage (Drummond) in 2 hours 42 minutes (2:42:55).  

The most exciting phase of the race begun when the chase group overtook a rapidly fizzling Vilakazi on the climb at Botha Hill (50 km). Over the next 10 kilometres the lead changed among 10 runners more than a dozen times. Gradually the contenders wilted down to South Africans Michael Mpotoane, Vusi Nhlapo, Khelehe and Russian debutant Leonid  Shvetsov.  

After Khelehe took a commanding lead at Kloof  (71km), an air of expectation gripped spectators along the route, as the local held thumbs that a South Africa would win the race for the first time in four years. Since the return to international sports ten years ago, the world’s most prestigious ultra marathon has been dominated by Russians, Americans, and scores Eastern Europeans.

Durban’s Kingsmead Stadium erupted in celebration as Khelehe run the last 150 metres of the race. He cross the finish line (in 5:25.51), and into the waiting arms of his wife Rose.  The couple shed tears. On his fourth attempt at this race, Khelehe had survived the fearsome Russian and eastern European surge in the last 15 kilometres. 

Regaining composure Khelehe said: “We have dedicated this win to our daughter, Rose, who at 18 months old fell sick and past away in January. While people where celebrating Valentine’s Day in February, we where mourning the loss of our first child. I owe a lot to my wife and my coach John Hamlet whose encouragement was very crucial,” said a visibly emotional Khelehe. 

“The death shattered Andrew. He could not pick himself up and train. I advised him to take a break, get over his grief and train for next year’s race. No one will blame him for missing this year’s race.  

But the real encouragement came from Rose. Once Andrew made up his mind to train, l have never seen him more focused in the 10 years l have coached him,” said Hamlet, also a police officer. 

With a two-minute lead, veteran Maria Bak (Germany) looked on course to winning the women’s race until Botha’s Hill (50km) when she begun fading. In true Russian style, Kolpakova surged past Bak in Hillcrest (70km) and went on to win in 6:13.53.  

Bak’s progress ground down to a slow walk in the last three kilometres. Although she eventually resumed running, Deborah Mattheus (wife of the 1997 Comrades champion Charl Mattheus), and then Marina Bychkova surged past Bak. Mattheus (6:23.04) was runner up. Bychova (6:24.20) third and Bak fourth (6:25.48). 

“I dedicate this victory to my late sister Lira who died in 9th February from drug addiction. At half way stage Bak was two minutes ahead of me, but at 70km she appeared to be slowing down. My seconders told me the third athlete was eight minutes behind me so. Although l was very tied in the last kilometres l was not going to let anyone overtake me,” said Kolpakova who was fourth last year. 


Note: Athletes are South Africans unless where mentioned

1. Andrew Khelehe 5:25.51
2. Leonid Shvetsov (Russia) 5:26.28
3.  Vladimir Kotov (Belarus) 5:27.21
4.  Alexei Volgin (Russia) 5:27.40
5.  Vusi Nhlapo 5:30.38
6.   Grigoriy Murzin (Russia) 5:32.59
7.   Dmitri Grishine (Russia) 5:36.04
8.   Sarel Ackermann 5:36.50
9.   Walter Nkosi  5:38.15
10. Michael Mpotoane 5:38.43
11. Soccer Ncube 5:39.30
12. Oleg Kharitonov (Russia) 5:40.14
13. Joseph Ikaneng 5:44.07
14. Mikhail Kokorev (Russia) 5:44.38
15. Don Wallace (Australia) 5:47.18
16. Godfrey Sesenyamotse 5:48.39
17. Ranier Muller (Germany) 5:49.52
18. Moses Lebakeng 5:50.40
19. Dmitri Raduchenko (Russia) 5:51.54
20. Albert Geldenhuys 5:54.07 


1. Elvira Kolpakova (Russia) 6:13.53
2. Deborah Mattheus (USA) 6:23.04
3. Marina Bychkova (Russia) 6:24.20
4. Maria Bak (Germany) 6:25.48
5. Maria Venancio (Brazil) 6:39.03
6. Carol Mercer 6:40.59
7. Grace de Oliviera 6:41.04
8.  Renee Scott 6:54.57
9.  Valentina Shatyayeva (Russia) 6:57.05
10. Madeleen Otto 7:01.14