Kempton Park, South Africa - It’s been the best of years, it’s been the worst of years for Irvette van Zyl.
Winner of the 2016 SPAR GRAND PRIX Irvette van Zyl (Nedbank) with her trophy.
Picture by: Reg Caldecott
But the positive side of 2016 was foremost on Thursday night, when Van Zyl collected her third SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix award at a glittering ceremony at Emperor’s Palace.
Van Zyl, who gave birth to her first child in September last year, had a great start to the year. She appeared unstoppable; winning every race she took part in, including the SPAR women’s races in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban.
She was selected to run the women’s marathon at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly.
But at the Olympic Games, her world came crashing around her ears. She developed a stress fracture in her foot, and had to withdraw from the marathon.
“I was devastated,” said Van Zyl.
“I didn’t finish the marathon at the London Olympics, because of an injury, and I wanted to make up for that by doing well in Rio. I am not normally prone to stress fractures, so this was a terrible blow. After going to two Olympic Games, I still can’t call myself an Olympian.”
Van Zyl came back from Rio and started intensive rehabilitation, but she was unable to take part in the Pretoria SPAR Challenge.
“I was really worried – I was on top of the Grand Prix table, but I was worried that one of the Phalula twins could overtake me,” she said.
Van Zyl eventually started training again a couple of weeks before the last and deciding Grand Prix in Johannesburg. But on race day, she put any doubts about her fitness to rest, leading from start to finish and winning the race in record time to clinch victory in the Grand Prix by 21 points.
It was her third Grand Prix victory, putting her on a par with Rene Kalmer, who also has three Grand Prix titles to her name. Van Zyl previously won in 2010 and 2011.
Last year’s winner, Lebogang Phalula was second, with 79 points and Christine Kalmer was third, with 70. Van Zyl collected a cheque for R160 000, Phalula took home R53 000 and Kalmer R32 000.
“I am so happy to have won the Grand Prix. It has helped to make up for my huge disappointment at the Olympic Games,” said Van Zyl.
“I want to thank SPAR for all they have done for road running. The Grand Prix has been going for 10 years now and it has added an extra dimension to the SPAR Challenge races. The thought of the very generous prize money is a great incentive on those cold winter mornings when you really don’t want to get out of bed and train.
“The Grand Prix has ensured that the top runners take part in as many races as they can, which means the competition is very stiff. Congratulations to SPAR and I wish them many more successful years with the Grand Prix.”
SPAR Group Marketing Executive Mike Prentice said SPAR was very proud of the Grand Prix and the achievements of the top runners.
“The SPAR Grand Prix, which allows our top end athletes a chance to compete for year-end glory, complements each of the SPAR Women’s Challenge races and over the past 10 years has elevated the series to one of the biggest athletics brands in the country,” said Prentice.
“SPAR is passionate about women and the promotion of women across the sporting spectrum and our involvement through sponsorship of women’s sports over the years is testament to that commitment,” he said.
“Congratulations to Irvette on her splendid victory and congratulations to all the other top runners. I also love the wonderful spirit of camaraderie among our top runners, who try their hardest on the road, and then hug one another at the finish.”