60 days to go to Two Oceans, organizers can't rule out elite only race, Gerda keeps training.
With exactly 60 days to go, it's still unclear whether the 51st edition of the Two Oceans ultra Marathon will take place this year. The world's most beautiful marathon is a second consecutive cancelation after last year's the race was called off due to the CoronaVirus pandemic.
Because the country is still under Lockdown Level 3 regulations, if the race does go ahead it will have to adhere to all the safety precautions chief amongst them being a limited field for a race that usually draws over 10 000 participants for the 56km distance alone. Just two weeks ago, Athletics South Africa (ASA) postponed the national Cross Country trials citing the rise of Covid19 cases cases which angered athletes who criticized the federation of not looking after them. But the organisers of this iconic race are adamant that it will go ahead on easter Weekend as planned despite the threat posed by the CoronaVirus. Two Oceans race Director Debra Barnes says the race holds a significant history to many and they simply can't afford to be cancel it twice in a row.
"We have been monitoring the situation closely as days to the race edge's closer," said Barnes during our telephonic interview. "I'm sure many athletes are looking to take part in this race and many have been disappointed by seeing the race being cancelled last year. We have to be optimistic that the Covid19 cases will be low at the time of the race. But we have consulted our medical team on the meeting we had last week to access the situation. As much as we need the race but experts must guide us to hold the race safely," she said.
Entries are yet to open for Two Oceans and Barnes promises runners that all will be decided after a second special meeting later this week. But because no qualifying races have taken place in over a year now, Two Oceans organisers can't rule out the possibility of an elite only invitational race similar to the one organised by the London Marathon in October.
"We are holding a meeting and we hope the medical team will indicate what is possible. We can't afford to cancel this year. The race will go ahead whether virtual or elite invitation. And the elite athlete invitation race will make us to stretch our pocket a bit but it's one of the proposed plans we included in the report we submitted to the medical team," Barnes explains.
Last year, Gerda Steyn's quest to become the third female athlete to win the race three times in a row after Monica Drogemellar and Angelina Sephooa was derailed by the outbreak of the pandemic. She still holds the wounds of the past as she received the news while in a high altitude training camp. "I remember being in a training camp in Lesotho last year when the news on the Coronavirus was developing rapidly." says Steyn
"My husband Duncan is a pilot and he was working at the time, witnessing first hand the extent of this crisis. By the time the Two Oceans Marathon made the official announcement that it was cancelled for 2020, it was really no surprise to me. All countries followed a similar rate of infection and lockdowns, with South Africa being a few weeks behind Europe we knew exactly what was coming. As the defending Champion, I was gutted because I felt like I was in a position to go after the record which I narrowly missed in 2019."
The Nedbank Running Club athlete hasn't stopped training as she prepares to take part in RAK Half Marathon in Dubai on February 19. She is in excellent form after setting a new 10km personal best of 32:33 at the SuperSports 10km #NightRun in Dubai last week. Steyn excepts Two Oceans bosses to explore the elite invitational race as many race organizers around the world have done.
"Of course it would work, and London Marathon set a great example to the rest of the world," elaborates Steyn. "However, it’s not as simple as it might appear on face value. Putting together something like the London Elite race took months and months of hard work, difficult decisions, a very determined Virgin Money London Marathon events team and of course, a budget which had to come from numerous sponsors and possibly the most successful virtual event of the whole of 2020. The athletes had ample time to prepare for the race and were reassured on a regular basis that the race would go ahead. The real question here is: Do we have any of these structures in place with eight weeks to go before easter weekend? I can’t say yes or no, but what I can say is that if the race was going to take place, it needs to be communicated and clear roadmaps given of what the race will look like in terms of logistics."
"The other obstacle that I foresee is that of travel restrictions for international athletes. International competition has always been a big part of the Two Oceans Marathon and having athletes from across the world makes it competitive and adds to the prestige of the race. I truly hope that there will be a way to still get those athletes to race if it goes ahead. The new South African Corona virus strain is worrying for the rest of the world and many countries have already banned travel to and from SA. Circumstances like this is not within the race organizers hands unfortunately, and however dearly I would love for the race to go ahead, a cancellation again won’t come to as a big surprise to me."