Elroy set to join the Paris Party after strong win in Durban

The lead runners along the Durban Beachfront. Photo - Cecilia van Bers

Elroy Gelant’s Olympic dreams flickered more brightly following the 37-year-old South African athlete’s emphatic victory yesterday (Sunday 28 April) at the Durban International Marathon, incorporating the 2024 South African Marathon Championships.

Gelant finished just outside the tough qualifying standard of 2 hrs 08 min 10 sec for the second time in three months, but his race record time of 2:09:32 and top finish against a strong field will have elevated his world ranking and is likely to see him packing for Paris before the end of July.

Gelant improved Lesotho athlete, Tebello Ramakongoana’s, race record set last year by 38 seconds. The latter dipped under the Olympic Qualifying time by 1 second in Osaka, Japan, in February, to claim the final time-based qualification into the Olympic Marathon.

Elroy Gelant (dark glasses) bides his time in the pack in the early stages of the race before racing to victory. Photo – Cecilia van Bers

National marathon champion back in 2019, Gelant has now added his name to an exclusive list of five runners who have won the title on two occasions – the late Zithulele Sinqe, Willie Mtolo, Frank Pooe, Benedict Moeng and Coolboy Ngamole are the others.

“Gelant’s Athletics Central North West teammate, Mathew Leeto, proved the revelation of the day, improving his personal best by almost five minutes in finishing just 15 seconds behind Gelant in second place, with another Olympic-bound athlete, Stephen Mokoka, rounding off the podium in 2:09:52 – 18 seconds clear of early front-runner, Namibian Thomas Reinhold.

A third ACNW runner, Tumelo Motlagale, claimed the bronze medal in the ASA championships, finishing 8th overall in 2:12:47.”

Johannesburg-based athlete, Cian Oldknow, saw off a strong international challenge to win the women’s race in the second sub-2 hr 30 min marathon of her career. Oldknow’s time of 2:29:46 improved Annie Bothma’s race record by 50 seconds and was almost six minutes clear of her closest challenger, Zimbabwe’s Ethel Pangiso.

Cian Oldknow wins her first national title at the Durban International Marathon. Photo – Cecilia van Bers

Despite slightly warmer than ideal conditions and a slight headwind in the final kilometres, conditions were generally favourable for marathon racing with a number of athletes setting personal best times.

Gelant went into the race with the intention of improving his qualification chances, but through international ranking, not through a qualifying time, as he didn’t want to go full out ahead of the Paris Olympics.

“It felt okay for me – it was not as tough as my marathon in Seville,” said a triumphant Gelant. “It was a hard and decent effort and I felt good throughout.

“The conditions were good, although I did feel the headwind toward the end. Towards the finish I had to go hard at 2:53 per km pace to get away from Mathew and my legs felt like jelly in the last 2km! But that is what a marathon is about.  

With 80 places available for the race, and only 70 having qualified through beating the 2:08:10 target as of 28 April, ten places are available for athletes who have a sufficiently high international ranking, and Gelant is right in the mix to qualify.

Prior to Sunday’s race, Gelant was on the cusp at 80th, but his win would have moved him up several places in the rankings into safe territory and it would appear that the competitive Hamburg Marathon, which also took place yesterday, did not impact on Gelant’s chance

“I was very motivated to win the race,” Gelant continued. “Before the race I was ranked in 80th position on the ‘Road to Paris’ adjudication system. I’m very optimistic.

“My goal was to get as many ranking points to get an Olympic spot without depleting my legs. I did not expect I would have to run so fast to get the title, but because of Mathew’s strong running I had to push hard to break clear.  I was going at around 2 min 53 sec per kilometre pace and that did impact me later in the race. 

“I did think of asking (his teammate) Mathew to slow down,” Gelant joked. “But I didn’t, and in the end I was able to work through things which went wrong in the Seville Marathon in the last 7km. So that was the positive I took out of this.

“There were a few small things which were not in place (in the Durban event), but overall the race was well-organised and the route itself was fast and comfortable.

“The Promenade section along the Beachfront was not an easy surface to run on and the lead car was hooting at people who were out for a morning walk!  I did a route inspection the day before, though, which prepared me for what was to come.

“I found that my track 5000m race last weekend against Adrian Wildschut was helpful with my speed,” Gelant reflected. “The fact that I was able to finish within four seconds of him gave me confidence and underlines that our structures and systems in South African are comparable with some of the best in the world.”

While Gelant waits anxiously this week for final confirmation of his position in the marathon team for Paris, Oldknow has no such concerns following her qualifying by finishing inside the 2:26:50 mark in Seville in February.

“Being on the start line today was really exciting,” said Oldknow. “I haven’t been part of an SA Champs since last July and this is my first big SA title, so I’m really happy.”

Cian Oldknow sets the pace in the lead pack of four in the women’s race. Ethiopians Misa Yimer (247) and Amenda Degu (249) and Zimbabwe’s Ethel Pangiso (back, right) stay the pace in the first half. Photo – Cecilia van Bers

Oldknow had company for the first half of the race, running together with Ethiopians Amena Worke Degu and Mohammed Misa Yimer and Zimbabwean Ethel Pangiso.  The South African stepped up the pace along the beachfront after 24km and almost immediately opened a gap on her rivals.

Oldknow’s pace judgement is exceptional, and it showed in Sunday’s race. “She asked me last night to suggest a pace,” commented her coach, George Bradley. “My answer was that 3 min 33 sec per km would give her 2:29:47.”  Oldknow got that spot-on in a perfect preparation run for the Olympics.

“I have great support from Hollywood Athletics and it’s an honour to run for my province,” Oldknow said at the finish. “My mom and coach surprised me – I thought I would be here by myself and it was such a blessing having them here to support me.

“A bit of recovery after this, then I’ll start to build up for the Paris Olympics.”


Durban International Marathon

Men:  1 Elroy Gelant (RSA) 2:09:32; 2 Mathew Leeto (RSA) 2:09:47; 3 Stephen Mokoka (RSA) 2:09:52; 4 Thomas Reinhold (Namibia) 2:10:10; 5 Simon Paulus (RSA) 2:11:24; 6 Lesetja Papo (RSA) 2:12:24; 7 Jeremia Shaliaxwe (RSA) 2:12:36; 8 Tumelo Motlagale (RSA) 2:12:47; 9 Milton Kekane (RSA) 2:13:41; 10 Michael Sanga (RSA) 2:13:58

Women: 1 Cian Oldknow (RSA) 2:29:46; 2 Ethel Pangiso (Zimb) 2:35:39; 3 Amena Worke Degu (Ethiopia) 2:38:11; 4 Mohammed Misa Yimer (Eth) 2:38:39; 5 Malineo Mahloko (Les) 2:40:31; 6 Irene Cherop Liritareng (Ken) 2:41:53; 7 Jenna Challenor (RSA)  2:52:56; 8 Banele Mabizela (RSA) 2:53:07; 9 Jessica Maitland-Stuart (RSA) 2:55:54; 10 Msawenkosi Nsibande (RSA) 2:58:50

ASA Marathon Championships

Men: 1 Elroy Gelant (ACNW) 2:09:32; 2 Mathew Leeto (ACNW) 2:09:47; 3 Tumelo Motlagale (ACNW) 2:12:47; 4 Reghen Magwai (AGN) 2:14:29; 5 Raydon Balie (SANDF) 2:15:58; 6 Nkululeko Mgubhala (KZNA) 2:16:13; 7 Simon Sibelo (EPA) 2:17:52; 8 Puseletso Mofokeng (ACNW)2:18:37; 9 Rirhandzu Rhangani CGA 2:18:53; 10 Arthur Jantjies (AGW) 2:19:42

Women: 1 Cian Oldknow (CGA) 2:29:46; 2 Jenna Challenor (KZNA)  2:52:56; 3 Banele Mabizela (KZNA) 2:53:07; 4 Jessica Maitland-Stuart (CGA) 2:55:54; 5 Msawenkosi Nsibande (KZNA) 2:58:50