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Nedbank Running Club runners Tete Dijana, right, who won, and Edward Mothibi, who finished third, embrace after the 2023 Comrades Marathon at the finish in Durban, June 11 2023. Picture: DARREN STEWART/GALLO IMAGES
Nedbank Running Club runners Tete Dijana, right, who won, and Edward Mothibi, who finished third, embrace after the 2023 Comrades Marathon at the finish in Durban, June 11 2023. Picture: DARREN STEWART/GALLO IMAGES

To win the Comrades Marathon is a special feat, coveted by many, but achieved by few.

Those who manage to hold onto their titles by winning the race, run alternately up and down between the KwaZulu-Natal cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg, are incredible athletes.

A hat-trick is the preserve of legends.

Morena Tete Dijana will on Sunday attempt to enter his name into Comrades folklore by joining an illustrious club of runners who have won the race in three successive years.

He will line up for only his second up run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg — his first was in 2019 as a novice when he finished 54th.

The Nedbank Running Club athlete has since become a two-time champion — winning both editions of the 90km race which will measure 85.9km this year — since its return after a two-year Covid-19-induced hiatus in 2020 and 2021.

The 2022 and 2023 editions were down runs because of roadworks on the N3 near Pietermaritzburg.

Dijana thus will line up at the Durban City Hall as one of the favourites to reach the finish at Scottsville Racecourse first as the up run makes its return.

Achieve that and he will become only the sixth man to win the Comrades in three successive years.

Everyone knows Bruce Fordyce — the Comrades king who won an incredible eight times in a row before skipping the 1989 race and then returning a year later for his ninth and last victory.

Other runners who have completed hat-tricks are Arthur Newton from 1922 to 1924 (he also won in 1925 and 1927), Dave Bagshaw from 1969 to 1971, Alan Robb from 1976 to 1978, and Stephen Muzhingi from 2009 to 2011.

While he would love to join those legends and has trained for that purpose, Dijana admits it will not be easy.

“The hat-trick is not simple — it is a difficult thing to achieve and I’d be lucky if I won it for the third time.

“But, yes, it would be nice to do it,” the runner from Mahikeng, in North West, said.

Dijana has received a vote of confidence from the man who knows better than everyone what it takes to dominate Comrades — Fordyce himself.

“He can do it. I know people are thinking he has only won the down runs and the up run is a different beast,” Fordyce said.

“But you must remember when he won the first time [in 2022] he broke away at 45th Cutting [at the entrance to Durban’s CBD] and that is on a hill, so that means he is good going up.

“That he has only run the up run once should not be too much of a factor.

“The routes are the same distance or less, and the down run has hills anyway.”

But how does Fordyce suggest Dijana succeed where the great Bongmusa Mthembu failed?

The Arthur Ford athlete won in 2017 and 2018 and was a huge favourite in 2019, only to be beaten into second place by Edward Mothibi — the man who ran Dijana close in the previous two editions, finishing second and third respectively.

“What often happens to the Comrades title holder is [building up to the race] he hears rumours or reports so and so is strong and he starts panicking and doing much more training.

“That’s often their downfall.

“That’s why not many manage to win the race successively.

“[Rather] stick to what has worked for you when you won,” Fordyce said.

 


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