Olympic hopefuls spar for victory

Two Olympic hopefuls will be vying for the top spot in the 10km race at the SPAR Women’s Challenge in Port Elizabeth on Saturday morning.

The Eastern Cape’s biggest road race, which incorporates a 5km event for young and old, forms part of SPAR’s national five-race Grand Prix series.

Nedbank Running Club’s Rene Kalmer will be hoping to maintain her lead in the 2012 series when she faces off against team-mate and defending series champion Irvette van Blerk.

Kalmer, 31, who arrives in the Friendly City on Friday, said the SPAR Women’s Challenge races were “good training” for the Olympic marathon in London.

“Your speed has to be good. These races fit in perfectly with my training.”

But, preparation apart, she simply loves participating in the SPAR series. “SPAR is doing so much for women’s running and for the development of kids.

“When people experience the excitement of taking part, they develop a love for the sport.

“Everyone has a personal goal. If they completed the 5km event this year, they want to try the 10km next year.”

Kalmer, who qualified for the Olympics at the Yokohama Women’s Marathon in Japan with the fastest time by a South African since 1999, has just competed in the London Marathon as a pacemaker, the same race in which 24-year-old Van Blerk snapped up the third and final spot in the Olympic team.

Port Elizabeth is one of Kalmer’s favourite spots to race. “PE has been good to me over the last couple of years. I’m just crossing fingers the wind won’t come up.”

More than 7 000 entries have already been received and another 4 000 are expected during late registration from 9am to 7pm on Thursday and Friday at Kings Beach, and from 6am on the day of the race.

“This is a race for the whole family. Those who come along to support have as much fun as the participants,” said SPAR Eastern Cape marketing manager Martin Webber.

The 10km, which starts at 8am, is open to women aged 15 and older. Anyone over the age of nine may enter the 5km event, which kicks off at 7.15am.

Both races depart from Kings Beach car park.

South African R&B singer Loyisa Bala is the guest performer, while Algoa FM DJ KayCee Rossouw and PE auctioneer Mike Bosch will be the MCs.

Total prize money for the 10km race exceeds R25 000. There is also a big lucky draw prize of a year’s worth of SPAR groceries, valued at R18 000.

While men can participate in the 5km – provided they dress in drag and run near the back – only women will be eligible for the lucky draws.

The beneficiary of the SPAR Women’s Challenge is Yokhuselo Haven, which assists victims of domestic violence.

To enter the My Reason to Run competition, and for live updates on the day of the race, log onto the ‘SPAR EC in Action’ page on Facebook.