The contribution of Mr Price, mrpsport and its Maxed Elite Running Club to ultra-running in the country has been nothing short of phenomenal. The Maxed Elite Running Club’s support of its top contenders in the Comrades Marathon was beautifully captured in the CMA Chairperson’s address at the recent mrpsport Comrades partnership launch.
CMA Chairperson, Cheryl Winn said, “The Maxed Elite Running Club is the longest-standing professional team to have had a presence at Comrades Marathon and arguably the one to have had the greatest overall impact on performance.
It all began in 1995 when local hero Pietermaritzburg’s own Shaun Meiklejohn crossed the line victorious in the Mr Price Group’s now famous red & white colours to become the first winner in the history of the race to earn prize money – it was R45,000. To date he is one of the most successful runners in the history of the race with 10 Gold Medals (all of which were run in the colours of Mr Price or Maxed Elite) and 20 Silver Medals to his credit.
The next year 1996 saw the race won by the Ukrainian athlete Dmitri Grishin in the colours of Mr Price, followed by South African Ray Bischoff winning the 1998 Women’s Race and Polish Jaroslaw Janicki winning in 1999 on the same day that Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated, where after he was immediately whisked off by prior arrangement after a hasty prizegiving ceremony to attend the inauguration festivities in Pretoria.
The Millennium Race was a particularly good year for Mr Price, with German athlete Maria Bak claiming her first of two titles (2000 & 2002) and Belarussian Vladimir Kotov taking his first of three wins (2000, 2002 and 2004) with the Millennium Race being won in a record time for the Up Run.
In between Russian Elvira Kolpakova took the women’s honours for Mr Price in 2001, shortly before there arrived on the scene probably the most famous of the Mr Price / Maxed Elite athletes – the Russian twins Elena and Oleysa Nurgalieva. Elena went on to win the 2003/4/6/8/10/11/12/13 Comrades Marathons, two of which were won in record times for the Up Run, with Oleysa winning in 2007/9, all but one of which were run in the colours of Mr Price and/or Maxed Elite International.
In 2012 Ludwick Mamabola took the honours to win Comrades, running for Maxed Elite KZN, and in 2016 while running for the TomTom Athletic Club David Gatebe set what is the current best time for the Down Run 5:18:19 running in Maxed Elite shoes. If I’m not mistaken 5 of the 10 gold medallists wore Maxed Elite shoes that year.
All in all, that makes 22 wins for either Mr Price / Maxed Elite athletes, which is only the beginning of the story. So yesterday I counted (and if anything, I might have erred on the side of caution) and I came to a grand total of 88 Mr Price Men’s Gold Medals and 90 Mr Price Women’s Gold Medals.
To put that in context, the next most successful professional team is Nedbank with a total of 89 combined Men’s and Women’s Golds. There were also years in which Mr Price athletes accounted for 8, 10, 11 or 13 out of the top 20 male positions, while in 2008 Mr Price athletes took 8 out of 10 women’s gold medals.
There are so many other names I should mention, household names, top contenders and multiple gold medallists, who at one time or another have run for Mr Price and/or Maxed Elite – in the women’s race runners such well known and successful athletes as – Grace de Oliviera, Riana van Niekerk, Carole Mercer, Yolande Maclean.
While in the men’s race I could go on and on – Fusi Nhlapo, Joseph Ikaneng, Simon Mphumanyane, Frans Chauke, Willie Mtolo, Bongmusa Mthembu, Claude Moshiywa, Marko Mambo, Mike Fokoroni, Prodical Khumalo, Mncedesi Mkhize, Teboho Sello, Charles Tijane – These are all big names and all of them have run at one time or another in the red & white.
These are the people who provide the competition, the depth of field that make it a race.
As South Africans, we love to win, and we obviously love to have South African winners. But as far back as 1996, as we were just coming out of international isolation, Mr Price took the initiative to find the best of the rest in the world, bring them out here to inject international competition into the Comrades Marathon, while at the same time investing in and developing local talent.
We thank them for gracing our race with such foresight, thus legitimising, popularising and elevating the international reputation and status of the Comrades Marathon and for exposing South African athletes and encouraging them to compete with the best by bringing the best to South Africa.”