Glenrose Xaba charges to historic victory at the SPAR Women’s Challenge in Cape Town

Glenrose Xaba wins the Cape Town leg of the SPAR Women's Challenge . Photo - Stephen Granger

Glenrose ‘Supercharger’ Xaba raced to a superb victory in the 2024 SPAR Women’s Challenge 10km series opener in Cape Town today (Sunday 24 March), the first South African to have won the event, dominated by African international athletes in recent years, since Free-State university athlete, Kesa Moletsane, won in 2018.

In a thrilling climax, Pretoria-based Xaba burst clear of Ethiopian junior athlete, Diniya Kedir Abaraya, in the final few hundred metres to win by just 7 seconds in a brisk 32:17, just 22 seconds outside her personal best and a welcome boost to Xaba ahead of next week’s World Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

Top three – winner Glenrose Xaba is flanked by runner-up Diniya Kedir Abaraya and third-placed Getenesh Agafaw. Photo – Ashley Vlotman Gallo Images

Abaraya’s fellow-junior compatriot, Getenesh Agafaw rounded out the podium, edging out Cacisile Sosibo by just 4 seconds to take third.

Xaba’s time is the fastest by a South African athlete over a range of routes making up the Cape Town leg of the SPAR series since its inception in 1993 and is 10 seconds faster than Elana Meyer’s 32:27 set in 1996.

Xaba herself raced to her best time of 31:55 in placing third behind Ethiopia’s Tadu Nare at the Spar Women’s Challenge in Durban last year.

Mass participation was back at the SPAR Women’s Challenge. Photo – Stephen Granger

Fourteen thousand athletes took to the streets at Cape Town Stadium in Green Point in calm, cool conditions in a celebratory return after five years to the mass field which made the SPAR Women’s Challenge famous throughout the country and continent before COVID led to the cancellation of the event in 2020 and limited the event to the elite-athlete-only Grand Prix series in 2021 and 2022.

Today was as much a celebration of the thousands, massed along the Sea Point Promenade in a moving mass of orange, as it was about peak performances of the elite few.  And with the minimising of the threat of COVID, a ‘dance’ of thousands of women to health and wellbeing proved a perfect antidote.

Glenrose Xaba gives a victory ‘thumbs-up’ at the finish of the SPAR Women’s Challenge. Photo – Stephen Granger

A negative aspect of the otherwise excellent SPAR series has been the increasing number of male athletes taking part. The results of today’s race indicate that male athletes made up between 15 to 20% of the field, likely close to 3000 athletes, depriving would be women runners places in the event once the cap of 14 000 had been reached.

While the rules stipulate that men can enter but are ineligible for prizes, to have a male athlete breaking the tape to win the race would go counter to the spirit of the occasion. It is time for the organisers to take a stronger position on this aspect.

“I’m feeling very happy – I’m lost for words,” Xaba remarked. “I’ve never won before in Cape Town, so this win means a lot to me. The race went as we had planned it, so I’m delighted.”

Glenrose Xaba and Ethiopian Diniya Kedir Abaraya go toe to toe in the SPAR Women’s Challenge. Photo Ashley Vlotman Gallo Images

Xaba took out the pace from the gun, running smoothly for the first kilometre.  She encouraged the Ethiopian juniors to take their share of setting the pace and the three ran through 3km in close formation. Moletsane, and Sosibo were together in 4th about 50 metres behind the leaders at this stage.

Xaba began to increase the pace from 6km and after falling back initially, the Ethiopians regained contact, responding well to Xaba’s surges.

“I pushed again at 9km,” Xaba explained. “But Abaraya came with me.  I didn’t think I could win at that stage, as I was really tired.  But I just kept pushing and was just able to maintain the pace.  Fortunately, she fell behind on the final turn into the fields and I was able to get the win.”

Violet Semenya, coach of Glenrose Xaba. Photo – Ashley Vlotman Gallo Images

Xaba’s coach, Violet Semenya, was not surprised by her time, but was not expecting a win. “We are just happy with her performance,” Semenya said. “We have been on a long journey learning how to improve, and we are still on that journey. But it’s easy to work with an athlete like Glenrose and her success in the SPAR series will open doors for other events.”

The Ethiopians were delayed getting to the start of the race from their hotel and were forced to line up without a warmup, something which they felt could have cost them the race. “I didn’t get it right – I made mistakes and took off too early in my sprint to the finish,” Abaraya reflected. “I think not having a chance to warm up also made it difficult and I struggled with my breathing.

“But the event was great – the weather was perfect that the surrounding environment beautiful. We loved the race in Cape Town.”

KZN masters athlete, Grace de Oliveira, en route to her 102nd SPAR Women’s Challenge finish. Photo – Stephen Granger

Master athlete in the sixty years and over category, KZN athlete Grace de Oliveira, brought up a significant milestone when she placed third in the category behind winner, Judy Bird.  This was De Oliveira’s 102nd SPAR 10km race, the highest number of SPAR finishes and moving past Sonja Laxton’s tally of 100.

Results of the SPAR Grand Prix 10km race in Cape Town on Sunday, 24 March 2024.

Senior Category:

1 Glenrose Xaba (Boxer) 32:17, 2 Diniya Kedir Abaraya (Nedbank) 32:24, 3 Getenesh Agafaw (Nedbank) 33:02, 4 Cacisile Sosibo (Boxer) 33:06, 5 Kesa Molotsane (Kovsies) 33:17, 6 Karabo Mailula (Tuks) 34:43, 7 Lebogang Phalula-Luthuli (Boxer) 35:49, 8 Lebo Phalula-Mzazi (Boxer) 35:50, 9 Bianca Tarboton (Temp) 35:58, 10 Betha Sitariko (Atlantic) 36:25

Juniors (U-20):

1 Diniya Kedir Abaraya (Nedbank) 32:24, 2 Getenesh Agafaw (Nedbank) 33:02, 3 Alulutho Mithani (Khayalitsha) 41:52

Veterans (40-49):

1 Lebogang Phalula-Luthuli (Boxer) 35:49, 2 Lebo Phalula-Mzazi (Boxer) 35:50, 3 Christiane Adriaanse (Nedbank) 38:58

Masters (50-59):

1 Anne Stewart (Atlantic) 40:19, 2 Ronel Thomas (Boxer) 40:49, 3 Janene Carey (Boxer) 40:49

Grandmasters (60-69):

1 Judy Bird (Boxer) 42:18, 2 Dee Smale (Totalsports VOB) 45:04, 3 Grace de Oliveira (Maxed Elite) 45:15