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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Olympians expected to headline as SPAR Women's Grand Prix Series returns

As the athletics programme at #Tokyo2021 nears its end, the focus is shifting back to the local running scene. Organisers of the SPAR Women's 10km Grand Prix have announced a star studded line up for the first race of 2021 which is likely include no less than three Olympians. The series will kick off on Sunday August 22, with the Pietermaritzburg SPAR Grand Prix at Alexandra Park where South Africa's Gerda Steyn and Irvette van Zyl as well as Namibia's Helalia Johannes are expected to compete upon their return from Japan.

The trio who are all running in the women's Olympic marathon on August 7 are the headline act, with Steyn in the form of her life after setting a new SA Marathon record in April. The reigning Comrades Marathon champion is better known for longer distances but says 2021 has taught her about the importance of incorporating shorter races in her training.

World Championship bronze medalist, Olympian and 2019 Spar Grand Prix Winner Helalia Johannes is expected to race in Pietermaritzburg on August, 22. Photo Credit: Rogan Ward.

"I've done one track race in Potchefstroom this year. It came off a rest period. We went to Cape Town just before the race. I wanted to see where I am and get some experience on the track. It helped me to focus on training and getting faster," said the woman who set a new 10km personal best of 32:24 in Dubai this January.

van Zyl and Johannes hold four titles of the much loved women's road running series between them with the Namibian winning the last edition in 2019 after Covid19 led to the cancellation of last year's SPAR Women's 10km Grand Prix Series. As a three-time winner van Zyl says she will always take part in the series when she can because that's where her life as an elite athlete began.

SA Marathon record holder and Comrades queen Gerda Steyn will also be in action at the first SPAR Women's Grand Prix race of 2021. Photo Credit: Reg Caldecott.

"It's an important day on the calendar. It's special to me because that's where my running career started. That's where my love for 10km actually developed so you don't want to miss a race also because of all the good causes that they have," she said during an interview with the SABC.

The Pietermaritzburg race will now serve as the first one of the SPAR season after the opening race in this year’s Grand Prix series – the Durban SPAR Grand Prix – had to be postponed at the eleventh hour because of a spike in Covid-19 cases and subsequent lockdown restrictions. The Durban race will now take place at North Beach in Durban on September 11 with an invitational field of 250 runners to ensure that the event complies with Covid19 regulations around mass gatherings. Athletes will fight it out for a share of two million Rand. The winner of the SPAR Grand Prix after the six races will take home a cheque for R185 000.

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