Two Oceans lures top runners

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

Mcelwa Nchabeleng

The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon will take centre stage in Cape Town on Saturday, with Zimbabwean Moses Njodzi and Russian Tatiana Zhirkova available to defend their men and women's titles.

Njodzi, who runs in the colours of the famed Harmony Athletics Club, won the event in a time of 3hr, 06min, 55sec last year.

Zhirkova took the women's laurels when she breasted the tape in the time of 3:36:19.

But the visitors will face stiff opposition from Brian Zondi, who was the first South African to come first at the Comrades Marathon after finishing second last year.

Zondi came third in the Two Oceans event last year.

Sipho Ngumane, the 2005 Comrades Marathon winner, and Atlanta Olympics Marathon champion Josiah Thungwane, are also set to do well in the event that starts at 6.20am in Newlands and finishes at the University of Cape Town.

Bethuel Netshifhefhe pulled off an inspired display when he came second during the Nedbank South African Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth in February.

On the women's front, the likes of Louisa Leballo and Farwa Mentoor will also have a big effect on this fiercely contested race.

Despite the South Africans' readiness for the race, the Russian twins - Elena and Oleysa Nurgelieva - still remain among strong favourites to win in the women's section.

Elena is the three-time Comrades winner and recordholder who won the Two Oceans in 2005.

The half-marathon will run simultaneously with the main event. For the first time in the history of the Two Oceans, an international friendship run will be held a day before the big race.

Marathoners from around the world are invited to come along and have a leisurely 5km jog or walk from the Good Hope Centre to the Waterfront, starting at 9.30am.

Stefanie Schultzen, marketing manager for the Two Oceans, said the race is a way of welcoming international runners and their families to Cape Town and its landmarks that are historical, such as Groote Schuur, Table Mountain and Robben Island.