Great accomplishments can be achieved in seven weeks or less. Examples include the construction of the main structure of the Empire State Building, the complete filming schedule of ‘Gone with the Wind’ (one of the most iconic films of all time) and the entire recording and production of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (the best-selling album of all time).
Likewise many great books are written in a short period of time like Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ (3 weeks), Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ (6 weeks – to meet the publishing deadline for the Christmas rush), John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ (first draft written in 2.5 days) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (3 days). Even Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-fuelled gonzo journalism classic ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ was written over a short period (although the author is not sure of the exact time frame).
Seven weeks after Comrades 2023, the below press release was finally published. It is unlikely to be named in any future classic compositions lists although it is up there with the last season of Game of Thrones in terms of disappointing let-downs – one or two good moments but the audience was expecting a lot more after waiting all that time. The only thing slower than the wheels of justice in South Africa is the pedestrian pace with which the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) operates.
Channelle Makhele started Comrades 2023 with the dream of earning a Bill Rowan medal. That dream was shattered before the 5-kilometre mark. Channelle’s aspirations and eight months of hard training were smashed before dawn over the nightmare on Epworth Street. She was looking to break her best Comrades time but all she broke was her leg.
On Friday the 30th June, an article appeared on the South African Runner’s World page written by long-time editor Mike Finch entitled “Comrades Cut-Off Drama: Organisers Respond”. According to various credible sources, Finch is a paid contractor to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) – which is undisclosed in the article. It appears that Finch has become a stool pigeon for the CMA.
Based on recent events, and because Comrades was originally run on Empire Day, I have decided to use what is arguably the best of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back, as a simile to respond to the Runner’s World puff piece (and of course try to bring some balance back to the force).
On Friday, Comrades Race Director, Rowyn James was quoted as being “adamant that both he and organisers were always open to comment, both positive and negative.” He failed rhis test on Monday morning.
Just how does James respond to criticism from Cheryl Winn, the matriarch of Comrades? Shortly after posting the image below on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, Winn was blocked from accessing her Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) account.
In 1923, Frances Hayward was the first female participant of the Comrades marathon. Her request for an official entry was declined so she ran unofficially, finishing in 11h35 (well within the 12 hour cutoff that was changed to 11 hours in 1928). As an unofficial entrant she was denied the silver medal handed out to all finishers in those days. Therefore, the Frances Hayward Medal seems fitting to recognise, “those that should have received a medal but didn’t.”
Unfortunately, along with the highs of the new men’s and women’s best Down Run times and Johannes Mosehla (81) becoming the oldest ever Comrades finisher, 2023 also saw a long string of organisational blunders from the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) that have left a bad taste in mouth of the running community. One of these blunders was the ill-thought out and illogical cutoff times that needlessly culled hundreds of should-be Comrades medallists from the field and left them medal-less.
17:29pm, Sunday 11 June, Kingsmead Stadium, Durban: A bemused and bewildered crowd looks at an empty finish straight. The race officials brace themselves for a final finish line onslaught that never comes before shrugging their shoulders and packing up. The SuperSport commentary team, who had been building up to the emotional climax of the day, are stunned into silence. Mqondisi Ngcobo, Chairman of the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA), raises the final cutoff pistol and shoots a blank into the dusky Durban skyline. The cock failed to crow at the start of Comrades 2023 and, with most flaccid and anticlimactic finish in Comrades’ 102-year history, it would have been more appropriate had Comrades’ Chairman aimed the gun at his foot.
So much for a fairytale finish. When the clock struck 12 at the 2023 Comrades Marathon there was no Cinderella story. However, someone out there deserves the Giant Pumpkin Award for robbing hundreds of runners of their Comrades medal.
On the 4th of December 2022, Kwazulu-Natal Athletics (KZNA) took the unprecedented step of issuing a media statement dismissing rumours of positive doping results at the 2022 Comrades Marathon. Prior to the media release, I had personally been told to expect the imminent announcement that a South African female gold medallist would be disqualified for doping.
Following on from the in-depth look at the Comrades Marathon Association’s decision not to refund 2020 entrants, this article evaluates the ‘refund / no refund’ decisions of South Africa’s other large marathons and ultras who’ve been forced to cancel their 2020 events during the coronavirus pandemic.
There is no human alive who loves the Comrades Marathon more than Dave Jack. He’s had had a six-decade long love affair with the race – and his unbridled passion shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Dave’s run it 14 times, done live reports on the event for Radio 702 for 18 years driving alongside the race leaders, stadium announcing and prize-giving MCing for over a decade. He’s served on the Comrade Organising Committee (the forerunner to the Comrades Marathon Association) and is one of the very few people to have earned a ‘running’ Green Number (for 10 finishes) and well as a ‘serving’ Green Name (for 10 years or more in service of the race).
Dave told me, “I’ve done everything there is to do at Comrades except win the race!” Well, actually that’s not quite true – and that is why I am writing this article. But the story of how Dave Jack won the 2018 ladies race takes some explaining and requires a detailed backstory – so here goes…
Letter of the Law vs the Spirit of the Law: An Open Letter to the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA)
There were some great performances at Comrades 2018. Bongumusa Mthembu won his third Comrades and became the first South African since Bruce Fordyce (the undisputed the King of Comrades) to claim back to back victories. Likewise, in the women’s race, Ann Ashworth had the race of her life – she started as an outsider but dominated a strong field for a convincing victory.
These were great performances. However, the one that will be remembered is that of a runner who finished way down the field amongst the last of the bronze medallists. This was the year that a one-legged cancer survivor on crutches hopped the longest Comrades in 23 years. The year that a former convict gained redemption. The year that a recovering drug addict who lived under a bridge for several years redefined what is possible. On June 10, Xolani Luvuno astonished and inspired a nation – and the 2018 edition of Comrades will be remembered as Xolani’s year. Continue reading “Heroes Deserve Medals: The Tale of Xolani Luvuno (#15620)”