CAPE TOWN – Local is always lekker, but in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon local success is a rare commodity.
The success of Stellenbosch star Nolene Conrad in last year’s Two Oceans Half-Marathon and Khayelitsha’s Lungile Gongqa’s stunning triumph in the 2017 ultra-marathon were thus particularly sweet moments to savour for Cape Town supporters.
Remarkably, Gongqa’s was the first local win by a male athlete since mountaineer, athlete and artist Don Hartley took his second Two Oceans victory in 1973. Conrad became just the third male or female Cape athlete to boast a Two Oceans Half-Marathon victory, following Makhosonke Fika’s 1998 triumph – the inaugural year of the half marathon – and Theresa du Toit’s win the following year.
Only in the women’s ultra-marathon competition have locals enjoyed more extended success, entirely due to Monica Drogemoller’s four victories in as many attempts in the late 1980s and early 90s. But since her fourth win in 1992, that Cape Town cupboard has been bare.
This year, several Cape Town athletes are contenders for podium positions, both on the road over 56km and half-marathon and in the trail events.
Gongqa returns and believes that even at 41 he has the ability to repeat his victory of 24 months ago, while two other veterans, Lindikhaya Mthangayi and Mthandazo Qhina, will be chasing gold medals.
Mthangayi, assistant pastor in the Khayelisha Methodist Church, is also one of the fastest clerics in the business and will be looking for divine intervention to aid his path to a Two Oceans victory. This will follow an impressive build-up, which included victories in the Bay to Bay 30km, the Red Hill 36km and, most notably, in the Cape Peninsula Marathon, where he finished ahead of his Nedbank teammates Gongqa and Qhina.
He has made it clear that Kenyan athletes notwithstanding, a Two Oceans ultra win is his primary athletic goal in 2019.With his former half-marathon speed, which took him to three top 10 gold medals in the half-marathon, combined with long miles in training, Mthangayi appears to have the credentials to delight Cape Town spectators this year.
Gongqa raced the marathon for South Africa in the Rio Olympics and has been a strong performer in recent years. The former Transkeian chooses to spend most of his training months in Johannesburg, where his past collaboration with South African marathon great, Hendrick Ramala, was pivotal to his success.
Qhina’s Two Oceans record is a model of consistency, with four gold medals among his nine 56km races. His best came in 2013 with a 3:10:02 second place behind David Gatebe, and Qhina is looking for a return to best racing form and another gold medal to add to his collection.
Injuries have thwarted Conrad’s dream of defending her title, leaving her legacy to two other talented Cape-based athletes, Zintle Xiniwe and Annie Bothma. Xiniwe has bagged top ten places in each one of her eight attempts at the Oceans 21km, between 2006 and 2018, with two third places in 2007 and 2011 standing as her best performances to date.
Xiniwe has had a solid start to 2019 as she will be looking to improve on her 8th place in 1:20:18 last year. Bothma, whose sole Two Oceans Half Marathon yielded a 9th position in 2015, has talent to burn, but has struggled with injuries. If she can overcome these, she will likely challenge for a podium position.
Brilliant ultra-distance athlete, Kerry-Ann Marshall, took 6th place in the 56km in 3:57:39 and has the ability to bag another gold this year. But her focus on Comrades success in June is likely to constrain her to a non-competitive training run at Oceans.
Cape Town could enjoy early success, with Kane Reilly a formidable presence in the Friday trail race over 24km, after his emphatic victory at the SA Championships in Hout Bay three weeks ago.