WITH defending champion Charne Bosman concentrating on the Two Oceans ultra marathon, the national women's marathon title will be up for grabs in Oudtshoorn this weekend.
The SA Championships will start on the corner of Park Road South and Voortrekker Road, getting under way at 5.30am on Sunday.
With both Bosman and last year's silver medalist Mpho Mabuza not in this year's line-up, the race for the gold medal should be wide open.
Bosman, from Gauteng North, won the national title in 2011 and last year, and also has two Soweto Marathon titles (2003 and 2004) behind her name. But, her ultimate goal was to move up to the ultra marathon to run the Two Oceans and, eventually, the Comrades Marathon.
This leaves a gap for a new women's champion to emerge. Athletes such as Gladys Lukhwareni, Tshifiwa Moundalamo, Pauline Njeya and Ndofhiwa Mandiwana are some of the leading contenders for the title.
Lukhwareni finished third last year, in a time of two hours, 48 minutes, 25 seconds, making her the fastest athlete from last year's top 10. She achieved her personal best in 2004 at the Beyrouth, finishing fifth in 2:40:18.
But there are plenty of others in the mix such as Moundalamo, who was fifth last year in 2:52:45, Njeya, Mandiwana and Bulelwa Simae, who all finished in the top 10.
This will be the first year athletes will get recognition from the South African Masters Athletics (Sama) as they have joined forces with Athletics South Africa to combine the championships.
All masters athletes, 35 years and older, will qualify according to their age on race day. Five-year age categories will be used.
The SA Championships will also be a part of the selection criteria for the World Championships in Moscow in August.
The victory ceremony will take place at the SA Infantry School in Oudtshoorn at 10am.