After two excellent runs in the opening legs of the 2023 SPAR Grand Prix, Ethiopian athlete Selam Gebre (Nedbank) holds a slender lead over South African Glenrose Xaba (Boxer) on the overall points table.
Gebre’s 48 points come after second place in Cape Town and then second again in Gqeberha, while the ever-consistent Xaba cashed in with a pair of third places to get her 2023 campaign off to a flying start with 46 points.
While conditions in the Mother City mitigated against fast times, with none of the runners scoring bonus points, in Gqeberha it was a different story.
In one of the fastest SPAR Grand Prix races in history, no fewer than eight runners grabbed precious bonus points, five of them with the maximum of ten points, the other three scoring five.
This meant that there was a thorough shake-up of the leading positions in the Grand Prix leader board.
Lesotho athlete Blandina Makatisi (Maxed), 4th in the Friendly City, moves up to third on the overall table, four points behind Xaba, while Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts) lies fourth, a further five points back and two ahead of Cacisile Sosibo (Boxer) in fifth.
This is where it becomes interesting. Two runners who missed the first race jump straight into the top seven after brilliant runs, backed by maximum bonus points in Gqeberha. The 2021 and 2022 series winner, Tadu Nare of Nedbank and Ethiopia ran a blistering 31:35 to take the win, while Cian Oldknow (Hollywood) dipped under the 33-minute barrier to score 10 extra points when she finished fifth.
Nare is now 6th overall and Oldknow 7th.
This year the rules have changed so that an athlete’s four best points scores at the end of the season count for the overall total, meaning that the likes of Nare and Oldknow need to complete three more races, while Gebre, Xaba and Makatisi can ease off and complete just two more.
This means that the SPAR Grand Prix is still wide open and promises to be another thriller as we head towards October and the grand finale in Johannesburg.
In the 50-59 year category, SPAR stalwarts Janene Carey (Phantane) and Ronel Thomas (Boxer) are neck-and-neck with 19 points, while Judy Bird continues her imperious domination of the 60+ category with a full-house of 20 points.
In Gqeberha, Bird come within 20 seconds of dipping under 40 minutes, world class for this age group. Lying second in the over 60s is Grace de Oliveira (Phantane), who was the toast of the town when she became only the second runner in the history of the SPAR Challenge to complete 100 runs.
Finally, Boxer Athletic Club edges Nedbank Running Club 173 to 154 points in the fiercely-contested club competition.