The Comrades Marathon is world-renowned as an ultra-marathon challenge and has attracted more than a few cheats over the years.
Some of these have been runners who got lifts in vehicles along part of the course between Pietermaritzburg and Durban or even used “substitutes” to run sections for them. But doping offences have also taken place among the elite runners at the famous race.
In 2014 ninth-placed woman Martinique Potgieter tested positive for a stimulant and a diuretic – athletes generally use the latter to mask the former. Potgieter pleaded guilty to the offence and accepted a two-year ban.
South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) chief executive officer Khalid Galant revealed that the agency had collected 20 doping control samples at the 2014 Comrades. Only Potgieter tested positive.
“The Comrades Marathon attracts the world’s best ultra-distance runners and offers considerable prize money: it is vital that the integrity of the results is beyond question,” said Galant. “Elite competitors and potential podium finishers can therefore expect that drug testing will occur at the event.”
Like other endurance events, marathon running is not immune to doping.
Since 2010, a total of 19 marathon runners have tested positive in South Africa for a range of banned substances.
Most common of the illegal stimulants found in these tests have been Methylhexaneamine and Nandrolone. Methylhexaneamine is used mainly as a fat metaboliser or burner and Nandrolone is an anabolic steroid.
Fourteen of the 19 runners who tested positive were found to have one of these two substances in their systems.
Among SAIDS’s initiatives to combat doping in sport have been:
- developing and implementing a comprehensive drug testing programme for all South Africa’s major sporting codes;
- providing education and information on the dangers and consequences of doping;
- promoting the spirit of sport by encouraging the values of Fair Play
- collaborating with African and other international anti-doping authorities to ensure that anti-doping regulations are applied equitably when international athletes train and compete on South African soil.
SAIDS’s I Play Fair – Say NO! to Doping campaign tackles doping in South African sports and creates awareness around ethics in sport and anti-doping by promoting healthy living and fitness. The campaign was introduced because of the high levels of performance enhancing drug abuses within the South African sporting community, especially school sport.
A number of popular South African sports players have committed to this initiative, including rugby stars such as Bryan Habana, the Team Bonitas Cycling Team and swimmers Ryk Neethling and Natalie du Toit.
“Those people backing the I Play Fair – Say NO! to Doping campaign are promoting healthy living and fitness,” explained Galant. “Our core values are that, at whatever level you compete, your goals are only achieved through hard work and perseverance. There is no magic powder or pill to achieving sports victory.”