Local duo face tough marathon

Soweto's road running dynamo Poppy Mlambo swings into action alongside countrywoman Tanit Maxwell in Sunday's women's marathon on the last day of the World Athletics Championships in Osaka.

Soweto's road running dynamo Poppy Mlambo swings into action alongside countrywoman Tanit Maxwell in Sunday's women's marathon on the last day of the World Athletics Championships in Osaka.

Mlambo and Maxwell were selected for the All Africa Games and World Championships from the SA Nedbank Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth.

Despite being a novice to the distance, Mlambo won a tactical race in a strong, pace-destroying wind. Race strategy will again be a key component in Sunday's race.

"We knew this was never going to be about improving times, it's about improving my performance," said Maxwell.

"It's my most important step so far in my goal of competing in the Olympics. There is so much to learn here: getting used to a world competition, the pressure of a week-long championships, even being in a foreign country where the language and culture are so different.

"The Beijing camp was a huge bonus, experiencing this reduces the pressures and distractions for next year [in Beijing], if I get selected."

Clearly Maxwell, who brought her own low-GI food to Beijing and Osaka, is intent on covering all bases in her preparation.

"It's about controlling the controllable and having the flexibility to manage the uncontrollable."

Last week's men's marathon was decimated by heat and humidity with only 57 of the 94 starters completing the course. A midweek lull in the oppressive weather may be more favourable to Sunday's race, with predictions of temperatures between 21C and 28C, high humidity, and even the possibility of light showers.

"My preparation is done, my training puts me in 2:35 (2hrs:32min) to 2:36 in good conditions, but not in this weather," said Maxwell, who is based in Durban.

"If it's like the men's race, it can add 15 minutes to the time. I have a range of plans; race day determines which one to use."

With Kenyan Luke Kibet winning Saturday's race in 2:15:59, the slowest win in the history of the World Championship, similar conditions could see Sunday's race winner just dip under the 2:30 barrier.

The race doubles as the World Cup, an international team championship based on the cumulative times of the first three athletes from each country. Without a third South African capable of running under the 2:42, Mlambo and Maxwell are unable to compete in the team competition.

All five Chinese athletes have personal bests better than 2:28, and are hot medal prospects. Chunix Zhou will lead the quintet. Zimbabwe's sole marathoner, Tabitha Tsatsa, will also compete. - Sapa (additional reporting by Sowetan)

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