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Gerda Steyn: the smiling Comrades record-breaker with an Olympic dream

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Four years ago Gerda Steyn was a quantity surveyor and part-time runner when she recorded her first ever Comrades Marathon finish.

That performance convinced her to take running seriously and in 2018 she came second to Ann Ashworth in a terrific women’s race. In the same year Steyn made her international marathon debut and recorded the best time for a South African entrant in the New York Marathon, stopping the clock at 2:31.

Born in the Free State in 1990, Steyn can almost always be seen with a smile on her face, with runners in her club praising her tremendous positivity.

She finished fourth in the 2017 Comrades Up-run having just returned from injury, a run that gave her confidence ahead of a bid for a maiden title in a race that she loves.

This year she became just the third women to win the Two Oceans Marathon and the Comrades in the same year and the first woman to complete an up-run in less than six hours.

Her massive reserves of positivity may have masked any pain she felt during the run but the race she ran suggested that the performance she delivered was at a controlled and deliberate pace, rather than an all-out effort. Steyn’s running sense is such that she could become a South African great in Ultra Marathon’s, but she will be putting her career on ice to pursue and Olympic dream.

Steyn will drop down to standard marathon distance in a bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Marathon in 2020.

Now a truly professional runner coached by legendary former Comrades winner Nic Bester, Steyn spent time in the French Alps preparing for rigours of the Comrades, and came into the race confident that she had a fast time in her.

Ahead of the 2019 Comrades, Steyn said: “My preparation has gone really well, and after coming off a big high in Cape Town, I was able to really focus and recover.

“It’s going to be very fast, and I have no doubt the racing will start early on.”

Steyn anticipated an early race and she got one from 2018 winner Ashworth. The pair pushed each other forward from the gun and set a pace that enabled Steyn to ultimately shatter the up-run record by over ten minutes. She felt like she had a record-breaking run in her after increasing her fitness levels between the Two Oceans win and the Comrades.

A Comrades record won’t count for anything in the Olympics and Steyn will need to earn her place in Tokyo, but her performance should at the very least convince Athletics South Africa that she would be worthy of a place on their Olympic team. Steyn will need to adjust to shorter distances and put up the kind of times that not only allow her to qualify for the Olympic marathon but suggest that she can do well in the race.

Her tactical approach to the Comrades suggests that she has the ability to turn herself into an Olympic medal contender.

“The marathon for me is a whole new world, but after today I will take some time to figure out where I go to from here.” Steyn said after the win, casting some doubt on her Olympic ambitions.

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