Gerda Steyn wins the 2019 Comrades in Durban (Gallo)
- South Africa’s Gerda Steyn is the overwhelming favourite heading into the 2023 Comrades Marathon.
- The 33-year-old has not competed in the race since 2019 when she obliterated the record time for an up-run.
- Last year’s winner, Russian runner Alexandra Morozova, is back to defend her title.
South Africa’s Gerda Steyn was all smiles on Friday, placed front and centre of the 2023 Comrades Marathon’s elite runner’s press conference in Durban as she enters this year’s women’s race as the overwhelming favourite.
To Steyn’s left was last year’s winner, Alexandra Morozova, who had to overcome the hugest obstacles in 2022 on her way to a maiden Comrades victory.
Morozova was initially barred from competing on a murky directive from World Athletics because she is Russian, but she spectacularly had that decision overturned via a court order on the eve of the race.
Morozova was comfortably the headline story of Comrades 2022, but this year, the bright lights are shining down on South Africa’s marathon queen, Steyn.
In 2019, Steyn became the first woman to complete the Comrades up-run in under six hours, smashing the field and securing a famous win. That was the last time she ran this race.
She has landed four straight Two Oceans titles since and many critics are tipping her to break Frith van der Merwe’s down-run record of 5:54:43 set all the way back in 1989.
“It’s an honour to be back at the Comrades. It’s left a big hole in my heart and my life, especially missing the race last year,” said Steyn on Friday.
“I’m really grateful. I have fond memories of my last run back in 2019. That day changed my life and changed everything and something inside me. I’ve been craving that since that day.
“To be here now, two days away from having that opportunity again, is an honour and I’m really excited.”
Steyn is fully aware of the talk around her run at Van der Merwe’s record, but she is pushing herself to stay grounded.
“It’s impossible for me not to think about the record. The media has been going nuts about it,” she said.
“It doesn’t affect me. I want to focus on producing the best performance that I can as an athlete. I look at my training and my preparation and what I’ve done before a race, and I base my expectations on that and not what the current record is.
“We all know Comrades is a long way and a lot can happen. I will have to see where I am in the first half of the race and where the competition is lying, to see who is looking strong and who isn’t.
“That makes me feel more relaxed, knowing that I don’t have one goal in my mind of breaking a record.
“Of course, it would be great for South Africa and for Comrades as a whole. At the end of the day, we’re putting on a show, so it would obviously be amazing. But it can’t be my only focus. There is a lot more to gain from Comrades than simply breaking a record.”
Of the top 10 women finishers in 2022, eight are racing again in 2023, and Steyn’s competition outside of Morozova includes last year’s runner-up in Poland’s Dominika Stelmach, who has re-aligned her entire calendar to make Comrades her priority.
“There are so many people on the route and I’ve never had that in any marathon around the world,” she said.
“It’s just impossible to describe. It’s the best race in the world. The only one. I’m so in love with Comrades.”
Galaletsang Mekgoe, meanwhile, is hoping she can improve on her fifth-place finish in 2022.
“It takes so much hard work, determination and discipline to even finish on the podium in this race,” she said.
“There is so much sacrifice to get yourself there. It really takes a lot. You don’t just wake up and say it’s going to happen. It takes everything from you.”
Sunday’s race starts at 05:30.