The SPAR Women’s 10km Challenge Grand Prix is becoming one of the most important athletics brands not only in South Africa but Africa. As it has grown in stature, it has achieved international status and is a now a major player in the development of women’s athletics in South Africa.
In 1992, the SPAR Group launched the first Women’s Challenge in Durban, as a way to get all women of all ages and races together to enjoy a 10km or 5km run or walk in safe surroundings. The race spread to other centres around South Africa, with SPAR Women’s Challenge races now taking place in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Maritzburg, City of Tshwane and Joburg, with thousands of women taking to the streets at each venue.
Thirteen years ago in 2007, the SPAR Grand Prix was introduced to make the races more competitive. Professional runners were invited to take part in as many SPAR Challenge races as their international commitments would allow. Points were awarded to the top 20 finishers in each race and at the end of the year, the runner with the most points received a significant cash prize.
The prize money has risen substantially over the years, and this year, the Grand Prix winner will take home a whopping R185 000. The runner-up receives R65 000 and the third-placed woman will be awarded a cheque for R40 000. The top 15 will all receive cash prizes.
On average, 150 runners earn Grand Prix points every year.
“The SPAR Grand Prix Series has done wonders for women’s road running,” says Nick Bester present Nedbank Athletics Manager.
“The prize money is exceptional, and you are now getting more and more runners from the rest of Africa wanting to take part. For instance, Namibia’s top woman runner, Hilaria Johannes has been in contact with me about taking part this year. The SPAR Grand Prix is world class and has become a truly international event,” says Bester a former Comrades, Ironman and Ultraman winner.
“Women runners in South Africa have every reason to be grateful for the high quality of the events and the outstanding organisation of all the races. The entertainment is superb and the top runners also enjoy the interaction with the social runners.
“Since the introduction of the SPAR Grand Prix, the Challenge races have become very competitive”.
Dana Coetzee, national manager of the newly launched Murray and Roberts Running Club, (formerly KPMG), also believes the SPAR Grand Prix has been crucial to the development of women’s road running.
“The Grand Prix Series, as devised by Ian Laxton, has added an element of hard and uncompromising racing on the road,” says Coetzee.
“ Our attitude is that two ticks of the clock could potentially be worth three positions and based on the available points, every stride is cause and effect.”
Coetzee said managers, coaches and athletes scrutinised the results after every SPAR Challenge race to work out strategies and to determine worst case scenarios and best possible outcomes.
“The SPAR Women’s 10km event is like having South African 10km Championships ten times a year,” says Rhyn Swanepoel, Manager of the Boxer Athletic Club.The SPAR Grand Prix series is fast, brutal and unpredictable.”
“There is no doubt that the series has contributed a great deal to the development of elite women’s running in South Africa.
Rene Kalmer and Irvette van Zyl have both won the Grand Prix three times. Other Grand Prix winners are Poppy Mlambo, Mapaseka Makhanya, the Phalula twins, Diana-Lebo and Lebogang, Kesa Moletsane and the 2018 winner, Glenrose Xaba.
Competition among the top runners is fierce and there has been a different winner every year since 2014.
Xaba said after winning last year that the SPAR Grand Prix was very important to her.
“The money is very welcome, but being ranked alongside runners like Irvette and Kesa is also important to me,” she said.
SPAR Marketing Director Mike Prentice has welcomed the continued growth of the SPAR Challenge races and the SPAR Grand Prix.
“We are very proud of this sponsorship,” said Prentice.
“The SPAR Women’s Challenge series is one of our most important sponsorships for the Group and our respective Distribution Centres who each host a SPAR Challenge race,” he said.
“We are pleased that we are reaching thousands of women around the country, but also that we are contributing to the development of road running by encouraging the elite runners.
“We look forward to seeing even more women taking part this year.”
The Challenge series starts a little later this year, with the first race in Port Elizabeth on Saturday May 4. The Cape Town race is next, on Sunday May 26. The Durban Challenge will be run on June 23. TheTshwane Challenge – the only one to be run in the afternoon – takes place on Saturday August 3, with the Maritzburg Challenge on Sunday August 18. The Grand Prix series ends on Sunday October 6, with the running of the Joburg Challenge.