Constellation of stars for Sani Stagger this weekend

Photo - Anthony Grote / Gameplan Media

A star-studded line-up of elite marathoners will gather for the 2017 Sani Stagger marathon this weekend ready to navigate their way up and down the iconic Sani Pass to the finish at the Premier Resort Sani Pass on Saturday, hoping that the gravel road holds up well after rains in the build-up to the sold-out race.

The fully subscribed field for both the half and full marathons underscores the race’s snowballing popularity and the uniqueness of the challenge that sets it apart from many other road marathons in the country.

As always the race will be a 2018 Comrades Marathon qualifier, however that is often not the focus for many of the top athletes as they use the event as a chance to race at altitude in their build up to the famous ultra-marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban.

The men’s marathon field is stacked with returning stars as two of 2016’s podium finishers returning for a shot at the title. Two-time champion and 2016 winner Skhumbuzo Dlamini will be back along with bronze medal winner Thompson Magagane.

Velani Sosibo, Lovemore Chabata and Zamokwakhe Mbanjwa all finished in the top ten and will be back for another shot at the title this year.

One of the major drawcards to the race this year is current Comrades Marathon champion Bongmusa Mthembu. The flyer from Bulwer will be out to get his Comrades preparation underway with a strong showing at the mountainous marathon this Saturday.

In the ladies race four of the top ten in 2016 will be back – which also includes two of the top three finishers. Defending champion Danka Erasmus and bronze medalist Natasha Malan return to take on the gruelling 42.2km up and down Sani Pass.

Apiwe Gaga, who finished fourth in 2016, is also on the entry list for the race as well as tenth place finisher from twelve months ago Jeanette Jordan.

Despite the full marathon being fully subscribed, it is the half marathon that attracts the masses and often sells out as quickly as the entries open. The half marathon is run from the Lesotho border post at the top of Sani Pass down to the Premier Resort Sani Pass.

2017 will see the return of men’s defending champion Derek Wasserfall, however his sister, who won the women’s 21km title last year, will not be on the start line opening up the ladies race to a new winner.

Second place finisher in the men’s race last year was Jeffery Sosibo and he will be back to try and dethrone Wasserfall this weekend with 2016’s fourth place finisher Martin Ngwenya also looking to push for overall honours.

The ladies race will be wide open with both 2016’s first and second place finishers absent from this year’s showdown and only Marie Agnes Pierrel, who ended third, on the entry list.

She is joined by ninth place finisher Che Fryer, however the women’s top ten from 2017 will take on a very different complexion to what it had last year.