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Van Zyl's injury woes make record run extra special

Distance runner smashes world 50km mark in Gqeberha

Irvette van Zyl smashed the 50km wording recording when she came in first in a time of 3: 04: 23, at the Nedbank Runfied 50km race on Saturday in Gqeberha.
Irvette van Zyl smashed the 50km wording recording when she came in first in a time of 3: 04: 23, at the Nedbank Runfied 50km race on Saturday in Gqeberha.
Image: Werner Hills

If you had told the three-time Soweto Marathon champion Irvette van Zyl that she would break the 50km world record this year, she would not have believed you. 

Last year, the Olympic-bound marathoner had knee surgery and feared that her athletics career would be over.

Van Zyl, who is married to retired 400m hurdles great LJ van Zyl, made history when she shattered the 50km International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) world record in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.

Van Zyl and Kenya's Ketema Negasa ran the IAU world record times at the Nedbank Runified: Breaking Barriers 50km IAU world record attempt yesterday. 

The 33-year-old Nedbank Running Club star stopped the clock at 3:04:23 to smash British long-distance runner Alyson Dixon's world record of 3:07:20 set in Brasov, Romania, in September 2019.

Lillian Chemweno of Kenya secured second place in 3:05:00, while Russian Dominika Stelmach had to settle for third in 3:10:26. 

Kenyan phenomenon Negasa broke the men's 50km world record set by late SA long-distance sensation Thompson Magawana more than 30 years ago, when he crossed the finish line first in 2:42:07.

Magawana had posted a time of 2:43:38 at the Two Oceans 50km ultra-marathon in Cape Town in 1988.

Negasa was followed home by two SA runners, Jonas Makhele (2:42:14) and Ntsindiso Mphakathi (2:42:56). 

Van Zyl and Negasa received R100,000 each for winning the men's and women's races. The two winners also each received a R150,000 bonus for breaking the records.

Van Zyl said the weather conditions suited her and she knew that she would do something special after the 30km mark. “The conditions were great and I felt good. At 30km I was meant to go off, but I felt good. After Nick Bester [Nedbank Running Club team manager] gave me the signal,I pushed through to the finish line,” Van Zyl told Sowetan yesterday.

She said she started to think about the day she went under the knife when she crossed the finish line. 

Van Zyl ran an Olympic qualifying time at the Xiamen Marathon & Tuscany Camp Global Elite Race in Siena, Italy, last month. She secured a 13th place finish in 2:28:40 to book her place in the Olympic team.

However, Van Zyl described her world record run as her biggest achievement in her illustrious career. “If you asked me a year ago today, I wouldn’t have said that I would be here due to my knee surgery, but this is such a proud moment for me and I am grateful for this opportunity,” she said. 

Athletics SA boss James Moloi delivered on his promise that the event would be broadcast live on television. “We are pushing for all our events to be televised. It is a new era and we are collaborating with SABC to bring you the action live. I made a promise and I delivered and move events will be on TV going forward,” added Moloi. 

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