The participation of some of the greatest athletes of all time in this year’s Sanlam Virtual Cape Town Marathon has created an opportunity for the marathon to grow into a global phenomenon with massive social impact, if you listen to race ambassador Elana van Zyl.
During the year, van Zyl reached out to some of her closest former rivals – athletes who lined up on Olympic and world championship 5000 m and 10 000 m tracks with her and who achieved world-best times during their careers – and invited them to take part in the Sanlam Peace 10km as part of last Sunday’s (October 18) Cape Town Marathon, using a 10 km route of their choice. The 10 km Peace Run and Peace Trail Races introduced by van Zyl have become important elements of the annual Marathon
Van Zyl is driven by a vision of sport as a powerful lever to promote peace and sees the further development of of the marathon and Peace Runs as an opportunity to use her “skills and means” to further the development of peace through sport. While she has been developing the Peace Runs for some time, it was the “virtual” element of the 2020 event that opened organiser’s eyes to the massive potential of the Cape Town Marathon to reach a worldwide audience and grow global participation.
“Obviously we can’t wait to get back to a full-on event in Cape Town next year,” said Van Zyl. “But there will always be runners who can’t make it to Cape Town but would like to participate and contribute to some of the causes. So we would like to build on what we have achieved with the virtual component and grow it into something substantial which can really make an impact.”
Van Zyl’s invitations went to many parts of the globe, reaching: three-times Boston Marathon winner, Uta Pippig of Germany; world record holder over 5 000m, 10 000m and the marathon, Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway; former world marathon record holder and multiple world cross country and big city marathon champion, England’s Paula Radcliffe; five times London Marathon champion and World 10 000m gold medallist, Liz McColgan; former world record holder for 10 miles and Olympic 10 000m finalist for Britain, Jill Hunter Boltz; multiple winner of big city marathons and former marathon world record-holder, Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, multiple Olympic and world championship medallist, Irish athlete Sonia O’Suillivan. They also reached Van Zyl’s greatest South African track rivals, Zola Budd and Colleen de Reuck.
The last-minute re-organisation of the race into a virtual marathon due to the coronavirus pandemic not only created a worldwide event, it also opened organisers eyes to what might be possible with proper planning.
“Time was not on our side this year,” continued Van Zyl. “We were unable to follow-up on the invitations to ensure best participation, but I was really pleased that quite a few did participate. Illness and injury reduced the numbers but Ingrid, Uta, Jill, Sonia and Colleen all joined me at different times in different places to run the Peace Run.”
“Those who did run seemed to enjoy the opportunity of connecting with the Cape Town Marathon. For me it was a strong expression of friendship and togetherness, and I would love to build on that formula again next year.”
Van Zyl would love to get her East African friends and former rivals on board and develop something meaningful as part of next year’s Peace Run. Ethiopian athlete, Derartu Tulu, who took gold in the 10 000m at the Barcelona Olympics when Van Zyl won silver, is now the president of the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and Loroupe has been active in sport and peace initiatives in Africa.
“I would love to see all those legends of the game joining hands together at next year’s Cape Town Marathon or virtually wherever they find themselves, and making a substantial difference to an important cause in Africa.”
Van Zyl is one of Prince Albert of Monaco’s “Champions for Peace”, linked to his own powerful Peace and Sport programme, whose key objective is to bring the values of sport to communities and individuals in crisis throughout the world.
According to their website, the Champions for Peace use their “notoriety, skills and means in the service of projects for the development of peace through sport”.