who will stop the russians?

IRON MAN: Comrades Marathon 2008 winner Leonid Shvetsov. 15/06/08. © Gallo Images.
IRON MAN: Comrades Marathon 2008 winner Leonid Shvetsov. 15/06/08. © Gallo Images.

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Can a South African stop Russian Leonid Shvetsov from completing a hat trick in the Comrades Marathon on Sunday?

Shvetsov is the first man since Bruce Fordyce to win "The Ultimate Human Race" in both directions - up and down runs - and to own both records.

He did not only easily win last year's up run, but set a new record, breaking the previous record of 5hrs:25min:33sec set by Vladimir Kotov in 2000.

With Fusi Nhlapo in the best of shape, Shvetsov will have to dig deeper into his reserves to win.

Nhlapo, who runs for Mr Price Club but is without a technical sponsor after he was dumped by Nike, became the fourth black man to win the Comrades Marathon in 2003.

Other black runners to win the event are Samuel Tshabalala (1989), Jetman Msuthu (1992), Andrew Kelehe (2001) and Sipho Ngomane (2005).

Other runners to watch on the day include Vladimir Kotov, Willie Mtolo, Hermans Mokgadi, Frans Chauke, Whitey Modisenyane and Kelehe's brother Mpho.

The Nurgalieva twins, Elena and Olesya, who have collected five of the six Comrades Marathon women's titles since 2003, remain firm favourites on Sunday.

The only time that the popular Nurgalievas did not win was in 2004, when the race was won by fellow Russian Tatyana Zhirkova.

It remains to be seen if any of the Nurgalieva twins will break the 20-year-old record set by Frith van der Merwe in an amazing time of 5:54:43.

What made that victory even more remarkable was that Van der Merwe was the 15th runner overall, showing thousands of men a clean pair or heels.

Riana van Niekerk, who finished fifth in the Comrades Marathon last year to become the first South African home, is a major threat to the Russian twins.

There are other equally good South African women like experienced campaigners Farwa Mentoor, Lesley Train and Carol Mercer.

Leonard Chuene, Athletics South Africa president, said: "The 2009 and 2010 editions of the Comrades Marathon are unique because our country will also be hosting the Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup [in those years]."

The race starts at the Pietermaritzburg City Hall at 5.30am and ends in Durban.