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Gerda Steyn gives little away ahead of her fifth Two Oceans Marathon title attempt

Gerda Steyn gives little away ahead of her fifth Two Oceans Marathon title attempt

Few outside her family and friends had heard of Gerda Steyn when she first lined up for the Two Oceans Marathon in April 2016. Hardly surprising, as her 8hr 19min for 56th position in her Comrades debut 10 months prior (impressive as it was on just seven months training) had not commanded any media attention.

And while her not-far-out-side gold medal territory Two Oceans 4 hr 15 min debut might have alerted keen followers of the sport that the then 27-year-old Dubai-based quantity surveyor would be a serious crown contender, the fact Gerda finished some 30 minutes behind winner Caroline Wöstmann went largely unnoticed.

But, by the time Steyn next raced the Two Oceans Marathon in 2018, her impressive 6:45:45 in the Comrades Up Run the previous year had blown her cover. This time she was seen as a potential top five finisher.

By the time Steyn had moved through the field on Chapman’s Peak after a conservative start and taken the race lead from Dominika Stelmach near the top of Constantia Nek, her place in Oceans history was secure. She went on to record her first victory in an impressive 3:39:31.

In 2019, Gerda Steyn’s true potential as a world ultra-marathon great was properly unveiled for all to see at the 2019 ‘World’s Most Beautiful Marathon’.  Steyn crossed the Two Oceans finish line in 3:31:29, just 54 seconds short of Frith van der Merwe’s 30-year-old record. It was the apparent ease with which she did so which signaled that Frith’s remarkable Two Oceans record was living on borrowed time.

COVID delayed the inevitable, but Easter Saturday 2022 finally arrived. Steyn clearly meant business. The playfulness of her win three years earlier was replaced by a steely professionalism as Steyn scorched through halfway in 1:42:40.

Incredibly, Steyn still trailed in 4th place and faced the battle of her life as she overcame a strong Ethiopian challenge and finally that of a fired-up Irvette van Zyl to win the greatest-ever women’s race at the Two Oceans, smashing through the 3 hr 30 min ceiling in style to win in 3:29:42.

It was bitter-sweet for Steyn’s 2021 – and likely 2024  – Olympic teammate, Van Zyl, who also dipped under Van der Merwe’s mark (by 5 seconds) but had to be content with the runner-up medal.

If 2022 was Steyn’s toughest Oceans, last year saw Steyn ‘bring in the cavalry’ as her family turned out in force in support. She again improved the record, shaving a further 36 seconds and holding off the strongest-ever Ethiopian contingent plus top South African ultra-marathoners in Adele Broodryk and Carla Molinaro to cross the line in 3:29:06.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so emotional at the finish,” remarked Steyn at the time. “My whole family was here to welcome me.  I just love this race and will certainly be back next year and hopefully for many years to come.”

True to her promise, Steyn plans to be at the start next month on a quest for an unprecedented five wins in successive starts while, like fellow-Olympian Stephen Mokoka, using the Two Oceans as a vital part of her preparation for the Paris Olympics in August.

Typically, Steyn, was more inclined to talk about Phantane, the club she joined early last year, rather than about her own hopes and expectations for the race.

“It’s been an honour to represent Phantane for the past year and I look forward to continuing with them, hopefully for many years to come,” Steyn remarked.

“I’m so looking forward to catching up with the team in Cape Town and seeing the club continue to grow in the years to come, led by our wonderful club captain, Mdu Khumalo. And I look forward to running in the green and gold (the colours of Phantane, as well as the Proteas) in the future.”

The feeling is mutual, with Phantane founder and club captain, Mdu Khumalo, effusive in his praise for his club’s biggest star.

“The Totalsports Two Oceans is very important for Gerda and the club. Totalsports is one of our key sponsors and we’ve enjoyed a great partnership with them. It’s one of the biggest races of our year, where as a club we can show our appreciation for what Totalsports has done for us.

“Gerda has had a massive impact on the club – the standard of running has gone to another level.  She has inspired many of our athletes – especially the women. Nwabisa Mjoli (who represented South Africa at the World Trail Championships in Austria last year and at the African Games in Ghana) has been hugely helped by Gerda – watch out for her at the Two Oceans Half Marathon!”

Strong support from family, friends, club and her professional team has been at the heart of Steyn’s success, and all will be in her corner during her big target races at Two Oceans and the Paris Olympics. Steyn’s recent successes at the Vaal Marathon and the Om Die Dam 50km, both in record time (2:43:50 and 3:16:16), suggests she is peaking at the right time and on target for more marathon success in another stellar year.

Road Running, Marathon, Two Oceans

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