Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon champion, Gerda Steyn, has shattered the South African Women’s Marathon record with a powerful run to finish ninth at the Xiamen Marathon Tuscany Camp Global Elite race in Italy on Sunday.
Steyn – who had already qualified for the Olympics – was targeting the national record but even she must feel elated with her time of 2;25;28, having beaten the previous record held by Colleen de Reuck (2:26:35) at the Berlin Marathon in 1996, by more than a minute.
It was a brilliant day for SA women marathon runners as Irvette van Zyl, set a new personal best, dipping under 2:30:00 for the first time, as she qualified for the Olympics, finishing behind Steyn, in 13th position, in a time of 2:28:40.
Last-Minute Hitches Overcome
While both athletes were set to participate in the now-postponed NN Mission Hamburg Marathon this weekend, luck was on their side as they managed to get an entry into this special marathon that has been set up with the assistance of World Athletics with the aim of getting as many non-Olympic qualifiers the opportunity to qualify by running a sub-2:29:30 finishing time.
For Van Zyl, the road leading to Italy has not been an easy one, with issues regarding the awarding of a visa. South African citizens living in South Africa are currently the World’s most restricted travelers, due to the current Covid19 pandemic situation.
“I literally got my visa this morning,” said Van Zyl at the OR Tambo International airport as she waited for her flight. “It was touch and go, but I am just glad that everything has worked out.”
Van Zyl Targets Third Olympic Games
This will be the third Olympics that Van Zyl is hoping to attend and is looking to make amends to the previous two which resulted in a DNF in London 2012 and an unfortunate injury in Rio 2016 which resulted in her not starting.
Both Van Zyl and Steyn are coached by the legendary Nick Bester, a former Comrades Marathon winner, who is also the National team manager of the Nedbank running club.
Speaking ahead of the race in Italy, Bester said: “Both Gerda and Irvette’s training went well, and they are looking for some good times,” said Bester. “Gerda just missed out on the South African Marathon record last year in London, when the conditions were not great. I expect her to run a lot faster this time round, so that is the goal, and for Irvette, it’s to get under the Olympic qualifying time.”
With both speed and endurance in the legs of Van Zyl and Steyn, one would not want to bet against the duo achieving what they set out for. Besides narrowly missing the South African marathon record last year, Steyn made history when she became the first women in history to run the Comrades Marathon up run in under 6 hours.
Van Zyl herself last raced a marathon back in 2019, scoring herself a third consecutive victory in the tough Soweto Marathon, before the Covid19 pandemic struck and cancelled races all around the World.
Selected Leading Results of the European Olympic Marathon Qualification Race at the Ampugnano Airport in Italy, on Sunday, 11 April 2021:
1. Angela Jemesunde Tanui (Kenya) 2:20:08
2. Purity Jebicii Changwony (Kenya) 2:22:4
3. Gebiyanesh Ayele Gedamu (Ethiopia) 2:23:23
4. Haven Hailu Desse (Ethiopia) 2:23:52
5. Antonina Kwambai (Kenya) 2:24:20
6. Delvine Relin Meringor (Kenya) 2:24:3
7. Rahma Tusa (Ethiopia) 2:25:09
8. Kuftu Tahir Dadiso (Ethiopia) 2:25:21
9. Steyn Gerda (South Africa) 2:25:28
10. Gladys Chepkirui (Kenya) 2:26:33
– – –
13. Irvette van Zyl (South Africa) 2:28:40
Photo 1 Caption: Comrades Marathon champ Gerda Steyn set a new national marathon record at the European Olympic Marathon Qualification Race at the Ampugnano Airport in Italy, on Sunday, 11 April 2021. Photo: Francesca Grana
Photo 2 Caption: Kenya’s Angela Jemesunde Tanui wins the European Olympic Marathon Qualification Race. Photo: Francesca Grana
Photo 3 Caption: Top SA runner Irvette van Zyl accomplished her target, setting a PB with a first-ever sub-2:29:30 minute finish in 13th place, which comfortably earned her qualification for the Tokyo Games. Photo: Francesca Grana