Lesotho athlete Tebello Ramakongoana and Cape Town-based Annie Bothma raced to hard-fought victories at the Durban International Marathon in rainy weather over the weekend (Sunday 13 March), while Simon Sibeko and Bothma won gold medals and national titles in the ASA Marathon Championship, which was incorporated into the Durban marathon.
The Durban event was the ‘icing on the cake’ of a heady start to the South African marathon season following Stephen Mokoka’s superb fifth place in 2hrs 06min 41sec in the Osaka Marathon in Japan last month (just 8 seconds outside the long-standing national record) and the world records by Tete Dijana (2:39:03) and Emane Seifu Hayile(3:00:30) in the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km in Gheberha.
While the much-improved a impressive Ramakongoana was a runaway winner, crossing the line almost two minutes clear of South African surprise package, Sibeko, in a course record time of 2rs 10 min 11 sec, the women’s race turned into a thriller, with the result in doubt until the finishing straight at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Ethiopia’s Chaltu Negashu, winner of last year’s Soweto Marathon, and one of the race favourites, had closed the large gap Bothma had built through halfway until she drew level with the South African with just over two kilometres to run.
Bothma, who suffers from a rare pituitary hormone disorder, is known as a fighter and if Negashu thought she had the race in the bag when she drew level with the South African, Bothma had other ideas.
She immediately responded, finding an extra gear and increasing her pace. Her former coach, Bennie Stander, had warned her before the race to keep something in reserve in case she needed it near the finish. She did, and cashed it in.
Her surge forwards took her past the two designated male pacers who had supported Negashu as second-placed woman throughout much of the race, her own pacers having fallen out after 27km, and re-opened a gap on her Ethiopian rival which at one stage grew to almost 30 metres.
But the Ethiopian, whose ‘fast shuffle’ contrasted with Bothma’s high knee-lift stride, was not finished and came back strongly in the final 500m to suggest she could yet win the title. A determined last gasp sprint by Bothma in the home straight proved decisive, as she broke the tape to win by just five seconds.
“This is a huge opportunity – I’m so incredibly grateful to be here,” said Bothma. “My word for 2023 has been ‘gratitude’. I was out for much of last year on medical grounds and only started to run again in November after a five-month complete break from running.
“I ran at the cross-country trials in December but I was under-prepared. But when I didn’t make the team, I shifted my focus to the marathon championships. I was hoping for a faster time, but the weather conditions didn’t allow for that.
“I battled with the wind today. It was really gusty for first 25km. But walking away with a marathon PB after all I went through last year is incredible. And to be rightfully called the SA marathon champion after being denied the title in 2019 (when she ran as an individual) is extremely special to me.”
A medication prescription error combined with two stress fractures kept Bothma from competitive sport for much of the year, but ever-conscious of the importance of good health and correct nutrition, the masters graduate in sports management bounced back to full health.
“Nutrition is such an important part of marathon competition and if used correctly, can be your super-power!” Bothma remarked. “And with my medical history, I needed my great power-bar drinks to help me through.”
Last year’s winner Kenyan, Shelmithny Muriuki, improved her time but dropped two positions to take third in 2:36:24, just 44 seconds ahead of local marathoner, Jenet Mbhele, in fourth, who took the silver medal in the ASA Championship.
Earlier, it had been Kenyan athlete, Samuel Nabei, who had threatened to take the win, after he made a move shortly after he led the pack through half way in a speedy 1:03:42. Ramakongoana was biding his time towards the back of the pack, 7 seconds off the lead.
Two kilometres further on Ramakongoana made his move, surging ahead of the pack, with only the last designated pacer, track and cross-country star, Mbuleli Mathanga, keeping him company. Nabei, who placed 7th in last year’s Rome Marathon, did everything he could to regain contact with the leaders but the effort proved his demise and he failed to finish in the top ten.
Mathanga’s work was done and he stopped after 25km, leaving the Lesotho athlete clear and on his own, keeping the pace honest in the quest for a World Championship qualifying time o 2:08:10. Passing 30km in 1:30:53 and 33km in 1:39:56 he was still on target, but the torrid pace in the first half and the tougher course and conditions in the second took their toll and Ramakongoana lost two minutes in the final 7 kilometres before clinching the win and the R50 000 first prize.
“There is no secret, I just work very hard in training,” said Ramakongoana, when asked about his hidden secret. “I’m speechless, but very happy to have won today. I was going for an Olympic qualifier and I was running so well most of the race. But with 7km to go the course proved challenging, and I was happy just to get the win.
“I’m proud of my coach and my team and pleased that I have been able to repay them today with a personal best time (his previous best of 2:10:25 was set in 2021 in finishing third at the Cape Town Marathon).”
Sibeko was delighted with his three-minute personal best in 2:12:06 for second place in the Durban International Marathon and the ASA Marathon title. “It was very good to run today – the course was mostly fast and flat, although there were some challenges in one or two places. I was looking for a 2:12 time so I’m very pleased with the outcome.”
Last year’s ASA Marathon champion, Tumelo Motlagale of Central North West, was unable to reproduce his 2022 race, but did enough to clinch the silver medal with his 2:17:06 for fourth overall, with KZN athlete Bonginkosi Mavuso completing the podium in 2:17:47.
Steve Mkasi, president of KZN athletics expressed his overall satisfaction with the race. “This has been phenomenal – we ordered the correct weather and although we didn’t ask for rain, the conditions were good for the athletes.
“I’m proud that Annie Bothma led from start to finish and held off the east Africans. She is moving up as one of South Africa’s leading road athletes and was so pleased to be here in Durban. And we’re also proud of our local athlete Jenet (Mbhele) who finished fourth.
“We had many hits but also some misses and we will take these lessons to ensure that next year’s race is even better. And we are already looking at improving the route and moving away from the Promenade.”
1 Tebello Ramakongoana (Les) 2:10:11 (course record); 2 Simon Sibeko (RSA – Central Gauteng) 2:12:06; 3 Cornelius Yego (Ken) 2:13:19; 4 Tumelo Motlagale (RSA – Central North West) 2:17:06; 5 Bonginkosi Mavuso (RSA – KZN) 2:17:47; 6 Reghen Magwai (RSA – Gauteng North) 2:19:07; 7 Philani Buthelezi (RSA – Gauteng North) 2:19:19; 8 Raydon Balie (RSA – WP) 2:20:33; 9 Samuel Moloi (RSA – Central Gauteng) 2:20:46; 10 Sphamandala Nkosi (RSA – Ind) 2:21:04
1 Annie Bothma (RSA – WP) 2:30:31 (course record) ; 2 Chaltu Negashu (Eth) 2:30:36; 3 Shelmithny Muriuki (Ken) 2:36:24; 4 Jenet Mbhele (RSA- KZN) 2:37:08; 5 Nontokozo Mkhize (RSA – KZN) 2:40:53; 6 Faith Chepkoech (Ken) 2:42:30; 7 Blandina Makatisi (RSA) 2:46:26; 8 Margrate Jepchumba (RSA – Ind) 2:48:14; 9 Cornelia Joubert (RSA – Central Gauteng) 2:51:21; 10 Janie Grundling (RSA – Ind) 2:52:29