Johannesburg, South Africa – Zimbabwean Betha Chikanga’s surprise victory in the SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge in Durban on Sunday has blown the SPAR Grand Prix wide open.
With wins in the first two races in the six-race series, defending champion Kesa Molotsane appeared to be cruising to a second title, with a two-point lead over Glenrose Xaba.

However, Chikanga, running her first Challenge race this year, took the elite runners by surprise by shooting into the lead from the start and getting so far ahead of the chasing pack that they were unable to catch up with her. Xaba pushed her way into her third second place in the series and is now top of the leaderboard with 57 points. Molotsane finished sixth and has dropped back into second place, two points behind Xaba.

Nolene Conrad, who was third on Sunday, is in joint 15th position with former title holder Irvette van Zyl. Conrad missed the Cape Town race because she was representing South Africa in the world half-marathon championships and the Port Elizabeth race because she was recovering from running in a marathon. Van Zyl, who was third in Cape Town, missed the Port Elizabeth race because of her advanced pregnancy and the Durban race because she had recently given birth to a second son.

Rudo Mhonderwa, who finished fourth in all three races so far – Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban – is in third position, with 51points, showing the value of consistency in the SPAR Challenge series.
The competition has been very close this year, with none of the top runners able to gain the bonus points for finishing in a better time than last year. The bonus points enable a runner to put some daylight between her and the rest of the field.

“I am very excited to be leading in the Grand Prix,” said Xaba.

“And I don’t like always being in second place. I am getting better all the time and I am determined to win a SPAR race.”

Chikanga, who is based in Zimbabwe, said she planned to run all three of the remaining SPAR races, in Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg. But she is unlikely to be able to take her competitors by surprise again.

“We thought she would fade after a while and when we realised she wasn’t going to fade, we had left ourselves too much work to do to close the gap,” said Conrad.

“We’ve run with her before and we won’t let her get so far ahead again.”

In the club competition, KPMG lead with 241 points, followed by Boxer with 206 and Nedbank with 197.