November 10, 2021  

2021 looked as if it would be another bleak year for athletes, with races cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions. But as the Third Wave passed its peak, the Department of Sport and Recreation, Athletics South Africa (ASA) and sponsors put their heads together to try to work out a solution that would provide top runners with opportunities to compete and to earn some money.

One of the major sponsors was supermarket giant SPAR, sponsors of the very popular SPAR Women’s 10/5km Challenge series, which incorporates the SPAR Grand Prix, which is run at six major centres around South Africa. These races normally attract tens of thousands of runners and walkers. SPAR agreed with the Department and ASA that it would be impossible to stage the 10km SPAR Grand prix series of races safely, but decided to hold a limited series of races, restricted to top runners.  Whereas the SPAR Grand Prix series normally takes place over about six months, this year’s series took place in a period of two months, from August to October. The first race was held in Pietermaritzburg, the epicentre of the horrific outbreak of looting and violence that occurred in July.

The six races were restricted to a maximum of 250 runners and adhered strictly to the Covid-19 protocols, and they proved to be a great success.  The top runners were thrilled to have an opportunity to compete and the series saw the emergence of some new talent.

But the star turn was the young Ethiopian runner, Tadu Nare, who was runner-up in the SPAR Grand Prix series in 2019.

Nare (Nedbank) swept to victory in all six races, finishing with a total of 150 points.  She capped that achievement by winning the Barcelona Marathon on Sunday in two hours 25.53 minutes – a new course record. She had made it clear throughout her SPAR Grand Prix campaign that the Barcelona Marathon was her premier goal for the year. Her victory in her debur marathon signals the emergence of a new world star.

Nare received R190 000 for winning the SPAR Grand Prix, to add to the R150 000 prize money for the six races she won.

She said she hoped to return to South Africa to defend her title in 2022.

“I love South Africa, it is like a second home to me,” she said.

“I am very grateful to SPAR for putting on the races and giving us an opportunity to compete.”

Former titleholder Kesa Molotsane (Murray & Roberts) was the runner-up and took home R90 000. Molotsane was proof of the importance of consistency in the SPAR Grand Prix and of taking part in as many races as possible.  She finished second in Cape Town and Johannesburg, fourth in Pietermaritzburg and Gqeberha, fifth in Tshwane and 10th in Durban, for a total of 129 points.

There was a battle royal for the next three places, with three runners finishing within a point of one another.

Two runners – Fortunate Chidzivo (Retail Capital) and Glenrose Xaba (Boxer) finished in joint third position, with 117 points each.  Like Molotsane, Chidzivo’s success was the result of consistency and taking part in all six races. She finished fifth, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and 11th. Xaba, on the other hand, finished second three times (Pietermaritzburg, Durban and Tshwane), third in Gqeberha and fourth in Johannesburg. However, she missed the Cape Town race and was never able to make up the missing points. Xaba and Chidzivo shared the prize money for third and fourth place and received R47 500 each. 

The 2021 SPAR Grand Prix series saw the emergence of two rising stars – Cian Oldknow (Murray & Roberts) and teammate Tayla Kavanagh. Oldknow finished fifth on the SPAR Grand Prix standings, winning R35 000.

Kavanagh, who surprised many by finishing third in Pietermaritzburg in her first race as a senior, came fourth in Durban and second in Gqeberha, to finish 12th  overall. She went on to win the ASA national 10km Championship in Durban on November 1 in a personal best of 32.51 minutes.

SPAR Group Marketing Executive Mike Prentice was delighted with the success of the 2021 SPAR Grand Prix Series.
“Obviously, we look forward to having the mass entries back as soon as possible, but we are so happy that we were able to stage the invitational races this year,” he said.

“SPAR would like to thank the athletes for taking part and to congratulate the prize winners. They have shown that it is impossible to compete, even during times of a pandemic. I would particularly. Like to congratulate Tadu Nare, who had to travel backwards and forwards between Ethiopia and South Africa between each race.  We will watch her future career with great interest.”  

Murray & Roberts proved to be the dominant club, finishing the series with 731 points. Nedbank were second, with 605, followed by Boxer with 368.