Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES – “THE HAT TRICK CLUB”

In the build-up to Comrades 2019, and in my blog about three time winner, Dave Bagshaw, I happened to mention what I regarded as a Hat Trick, the fact that he had won three Comrades in three successive years and that only five men and three women in total in the history of the race have been able to do this.

Shortly after I published the blog that mentioned the “hat trick”, I received a Whatsapp message from Bruce Fordyce to tell me that he had enjoyed reading the article about Dave Bagshaw (whom he knows) and that he felt proud to be a member of “The Hat Trick Club” – and so the term was born!

In the run up to the race itself, I referred to “the Hat Trick Club” quite a few times on Twitter and especially speculation as to whether we would see a 6th male member of this exclusive “club” if Bongmusa Mthembu won his third Comrades in as many years. Sadly Bongmusa had to settle for second place after a brilliant and tactical run by Edward Mothibe saw him take the win.

So for the next few years anyway, “The Hat Trick Club” will still have just 5 men and 3 women members but who are they and what makes winning three Comrades in three successive years so special?

In a previous blog some time ago, I made reference to the fact that winning Comrades is something very special irrespective of the number of Comrades a runner may have won and that there is a very long list of runners who had finished high up in the final positions but who couldn’t actually win the race and amongst them some extremely good Comrades runners.

I thought then that it would be a good idea to look at the members of this exclusive “club” that Bruce Fordyce dubbed “The Hat Trick Club” and how proud he was to be a member of that club.

So who are the members of this “club”?

The first person to win three Comrades in three successive years was Arthur Newton but he went beyond a hat trick of wins with four wins in four years in 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925. 

There are some who might say that given the small fields in the early days of Comrades that this wasn’t a special feat but as I’ve said there is a long list of runners who were good but just not good enough to pull off the win.  Bear in mind that even Newton was beaten when he finished 2nd in 1926 and beaten by a runner who had finished in second place a few times so the argument that one runner had to be dominant with those small fields doesn’t actually work.

ARTHUR NEWTON RUNNINGArthur Newton in action

 

The runner who beat Arthur Newton in 1926 was Harry Phillips and not only did he beat Newton who finished second that year, but he also set a new “best time” (record) for the Up Run but he could only manage that one win in the years he ran Comrades.

In the first Comrades in 1921, Phillips finished second to Bill Rowan some 40 minutes behind Rowan.

Phillips was again 2nd in 1922 this time behind Arthur Newton. He was again 2nd to Newton in 1925 and he managed just that single win despite what were epic battles against Newton and it was those wins that set Newton apart in the 1920’s and gave him the 4 successive wins and the first “hat trick”.

We had to wait virtually 40 years before anyone achieved three wins in three successive years again and bear in mind some of the great Comrades runners like Hardy Ballington, his younger brother Johnny who had 5 gold medals and a best position of 2nd in 1949 but never won, Wally Hayward who ended up with 5 wins in total but no hat trick (to be fair he never ran three years in a row), Gerald Walsh with two wins and a heap of gold medals, Gordon Baker with 9 starts and 8 gold medals some of which were for 2nd place and Jackie Mekler who won 5 times but not three in three years.

All of these great runners were around in the years before we saw the second person to win three times in three successive years.

It was Dave Bagshaw in 1969, 1970 and 1971 when we saw our second Hat Trick of wins. Dave Bagshaw had his first win and as a novice also broke the record.

BAGSHAW 4Dave Bagshaw crossing the finish line in 1971

 

In 1970 Bagshaw won again and again broke the record and then his third win came in 1971 when he was just short of his own record so a hat trick of wins for him despite some intense competition from people like Dave Box, Manie Kuhn and even Jackie Mekler. Dave Bagshaw was the favourite to win his fourth Comrades in 1972 but he had to be content with second place when he was beaten by Mick Orton.

 

Next to get a hat trick of wins was Alan Robb who won in 1976, 1977 and 1978. Robb was beaten in 1979 by Piet Vorster but won again in 1980 beating Bruce Fordyce in a huge battle for the win.

ALAN ROBB 1978 FINISHAlan Robb crossing the finish line in the 1976 Down Run

 

The three wins had given him his hat trick and it was in 1978 on the Down Run that Robb became the first runner to run Comrades in under 5 hours and 30 minutes.

 

1981 and enter Bruce Fordyce. Bruce actually did a “Double Hat Trick” when he won 8 Comrades in successive years from 1981 to 1988.

Bruce Fordyce crosses the finish line in one of his many wins

 

I have little doubt that he would have made it a “triple hat trick” had he run the race in 1989 but he didn’t run in 1989 after having run (and won) a 100km race against a number of foreign so-called 100km specialists earlier in 1989 in Stellenbosch. He then came back in 1990 to win his 9th Comrades.

 

We then had to wait another 20 years for the next, and at this stage, last member of the “Hat Trick Club”. In 2009, 2010 and 2011 it was Zimbabwean, Stephen Muzhingi who was first home in those three years.

 

stephen muzhingiStephen Muzhingi in full cry

 

Muzhingi was a better than fair runner with a collection of gold medals for finishing in the top 10 both before and after his hat trick of wins.  He won gold medals in 2007 and 2008 before his first win and in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 after his third win so he in effect earned his green number in two ways. Three wins and five golds.

 

There are also three members of “The Hat Trick Club” in the women’s section of Comrades.  The first of them after women were official entrants in 1975 was Lettie van Zyl.

She won in 1976, 1977 and 1978 but before that, Lettie van Zyl had initially been the first woman finisher in 1975. She clocked 8:50 but she wasn’t recognised as the women’s winner when it was discovered she hadn’t met the qualifying standards.

Those who were around then will remember that for novices in 1975 it was a requirement that they qualify by running a standard marathon in 3 hours 30 minutes.

lettie van zylLettie van Zyl three time winner in 1976, 1977 & 1978

 

The honour of being the first official woman finisher in 1975 then went to Elizabeth Cavanagh in 10:08.   Interesting that whilst Lettie was achieving her hat trick of wins, Alan Robb achieved his hat trick in the same three years.

 

Then it was almost 10 years before our next women’s hat trick member came along. New Zealander turned South African Helen Lucre won in 1985, 1986 and 1987. 

Helen Lucre on her way to one of her three wins

 

The interesting thing about Helen is that she only started running towards the end of 1979 after she settled in Pretoria and started running just to keep fit but by the time she finished her running career, she had won every major race in the country. She was also instrumental in starting what has now grown into the Spar Ladies race and also spent many years in road running administration.

 

The last of the women’s hat trick winners – but with four wins in succession – was one of the famous Russian twins, Elena Nurgalieva who managed four wins in four years in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

elena NURGALEIVA                                                                                                                                                                                                   Elena Nurgalieva wearing her yellow number before winning her green number

 

She had a total of 8 wins and although she didn’t emulate Bruce Fordyce with his 8 wins in 8 years and 9 wins in total, her Comrades runs were an incredible performance nonetheless.

 

So in both the men’s and women’s races, our chances of another member, either male or female – of “The Hat Trick Club” is going to have to wait until, at best, 2021 because for both the winners in 2019 it was a first win and either of them would need to win the next two Comrades.

 

I said at the start of this article that we must never and can never take away anything from any winner of Comrades, it’s a fantastic achievement in anybody’s language but three wins in three successive years is very special and not easy to achieve when you consider that only 8 runners have managed it since that first Comrades in 1921 and we have now had 94 Comrades Marathons.

I mentioned the fact at the start that some people might say that it was easier to achieve a hat trick of wins in days gone by with smaller fields but it should never be forgotten that even though the winning times may have been slower than those being recorded in recent years, the competition up front was as intense as it’s ever been and irrespective of when the three wins in three successive years were run, it was a massive achievement.

 

 

June 2019  

Posted in COMRADES PERSONALITIES

COMRADES MARATHON 1969

The following is a report on the 1969 Comrades Marathon which was written by Dave Bagshaw who was running his first Comrades.  The report was written for the newsletter of his club, Savages in Durban.  

One interesting thing about this report is that after Dave wrote it, he hasn’t looked at it again until about two weeks ago when I asked him for a copy.

At this stage, Dave Bagshaw is one of only 5 men who have been able to win Comrades in three successive years. On two of his three runs he broke the record (best time) and on the third one as just 2 minutes outside his own record.

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I arrived at the starting point in front of Pietermaritzburg City Hall about fifteen minutes before the start of the race.  I felt nervous.  I suppose over seven hundred other runners felt the same way.  For each of us this race was the culmination of months of training and now we were face to face with the big test.

For my own part I was very apprehensive.  Even though many friends had expressed confidence in my ability to do well I doubted that I could last fifty-four miles with men like Dave Box, Jackie Mekler, Manie Kuhn and Gordon Baker.  All these and many others had years of distance running behind them.  In contrast I’d only run my first marathon nine months before.

Nevertheless I had confidence that I would survive the distance.  Even though my training had been lighter than that of most of the stronger runners it suited me and had paid off in my other marathon races.

My early morning preparation for the race had been a little confused.  I intended rising at 3.30 a.m. but after a rather restless interrupted sleep for most of the night I slept soundly towards the end and did not wake until 4.30 a.m.  After loosening up exercises and a visit to the bathroom, I ate a light breakfast without much enthusiasm.  Then off to the start.

It was a cool morning and the odour of liniment hung heavy on the air in front of the city hall.  The bustling crowd was enormous and I had difficulty locating my seconds but eventually found them.  Last minute instructions were exchanged and I went out onto the road to stand in the front rank.  No problem here.   In a race this distance people have no illusions about the need for a fast start unless they have hopes of finishing well up so the faster runners are pushed to the front.

Shortly before 6.00 a.m. the Mayor of Pietermaritzburg presented Gordon Baker with the baton containing the message for the Mayor of Durban.  Then Max Trimborn gave his famous cock-crow, the gun fired, and the race had begun.

There was no sudden rush at the start.  This was to be a test of strength and stamina not so much of speed and a few seconds lost at the start were unimportant.  However the field soon opened out and, leaving the city via the main street, John Tarrant was leading followed by a group including Box, Mekler, Baker, Bill Brown (8th last year), Roland Davey, Olaf Vorster, Eric Renken and myself.

Tarrant was setting a good pace and had a lead of fifty or sixty yards after the first mile.  I was at a loss as to what to do because I seemed to be running slowly.  For a moment I was tempted to move off after Tarrant then I glanced at Mekler, the most experienced runner in the race, apparently unconcerned by the fact that Tarrant was ahead.  No one else seemed interested in chasing John so I decided to follow the approach of my more experienced fellows and let him go.  By the time we left the street lights of Pietermaritzburg behind we could not even see him on the road ahead of us.

I found it necessary to run at the front of the leading group to avoid tripping people in front with my long stride.  My confidence increased on finding I could keep up with the leaders easily.

After seven miles I discarded the jersey in which I had started the race.  It was still cool and I remember hoping the overcast sky would shelter us from the sun all day.

The leading group maintained a steady pace down Polly Shorts and up the long climb to Umlaas Road.  At Camperdown (14.7 miles), reached in 1 hour 37 minutes, Box, Mekler, Baker, Davey, Brown, Vorster and I were still together, Davis and Renken just behind and Tarrant four minutes ahead.  Even hearing the size of Tarrant’s lead did not seem to perturb anyone.  Everyone seemed to have settled into a rhythm and there was obviously going to be no excitement or radical changes in front positions for some while.  At this point Manie Kuhn (1967 winner) was a minute behind.  A slow starter, Kuhn usually moved up to the front in the middle of the race.

The 11 and a half miles from Camperdown to Drummond were uneventful until we reached the foot of Inchanga.  I still felt comfortable and worked to vary the pace a little and lose some of the group.  Box obviously had the same idea.  Together we led up the one and a half mile climb and by the time we were over the top and beginning the steep descent into Drummond we had achieved our objective.

At Drummond (26.2 miles) in 2.51 hours, Box, Mekler, Baker, Vorster and I were left together.  Still no sign of Kuhn whom I expected to catch us about here (in actual fact he was 4 minutes behind).

Beginning the climb out of Drummond I noticed the others dropping, Mekler seemed unhappy (I learned later he changed his shoes which were giving him trouble) and Baker and Vorster seemed to decide the pace was too fast.  I hoped they were wrong.  I felt good, running very relaxed and took my first sponge to freshen myself up.

Two miles out of Drummond we caught Tarrant.  He was really struggling (suffering from stomach trouble) and dropped back to finish 28th in 6 hours 55 minutes 46 seconds.

Box and I were now out in front alone.  Both of us seemed to be running easily and the stiff climb up Alverstone presented no problem.  However shortly after Dave Box seemed to be losing ground on me.  We had been running side by side and suddenly I found myself alone – with Dave 10 yards back.  I was striding well and so, with twenty miles to go, I decided not to wait but to keep running my own pace regardless. 

Many were the warnings I’d been given by old Comraders about the seven miles from Drummond to Hillcrest.  “Don’t worry about losing a few minutes on those hills” was the advice, and here I was running out ahead of the field.  I knew many of those just behind would think I was committing suicide running so fast.

I really began striding out.  It had got warmer and I was drinking frequently but conditions were still favourable.

In Pinetown, with thirteen miles to go (4.24) I had a six minute lead over Dave Box (4.30) who was followed by Rencken (4.31) Davis, Baker (4.32) Davey and Mekler (4.33).  Encouraged by the fact that I had such a big lead, and the large crowd in Pinetown, I climbed Cowies Hill striding powerfully.

I felt fairly confident I could win but felt no elation at the prospect.  An error of judgment even then could have cost me the race.  I was more concerned over the fate of the team trophy, the Gunga Din Shield.  I knew we, Savages, were first, second and sixth, but what of our fourth scorer? Germiston had Mekler and Davis well up.  I had to stay ahead.

From Pinetown to Durban the run was uneventful except for one incident.  After a short distance on a dirt road we had to climb three steps up to the main road again.  This after 49 miles hard running.  I couldn’t make it, fell forward and went up on all fours.  Then back to running rhythm again.

The streets were crowded the last five miles and I was told I’d be well inside Gomersall’s course record.  My seconds were working hard now.  I was still running smoothly but I wanted drinks, sponges and salt tablets more frequently now it was getting hotter.

The crowds were thicker closer to the DLI grounds where we were to finish.  The baton containing the message to the mayor was thrust into my hand as I ran up to the tape. 

BAGSHAW COMING IN TO THE FINISH OF THE 1969 COMRADES

 

Then it was over I could stop running.

By the time Dave Box finished, twelve minutes later, I felt recovered.  Elation at my victory kept the full effects of fatigue at bay for several hours.

Dave finished, suffering from large blisters on both feet.  Four minutes later Jackie Mekler came in.  Shortly after Drummond stomach trouble had slowed him down and he’d dropped to eleventh, seventh in Pinetown, he moved through well to take third place.  In my opinion his was a magnificent effort.  To have a bad run and yet put up such a good performance further enhances his reputation as a great runner and competitor.

I was fortunate.  I had the sort of run that every runner dreams about – trouble free, no bad patch, no struggling, no blisters, just a gradual tiring towards the end.

Throughout the afternoon streams of runners arrived in Durban.  In all 587 out of 703 starters completed the course within the time limit of eleven hours.

For the first time in the history of the race two runners from the same club finished inside six hours and Savages became the first club ever to win the Gunga Din Shield for the fifth year in succession.

 

Dave Bagshaw 1969

YOU CAN GET TO DAVE BAGSHAW’S LIFE STORY BY CLICKING HERE.