Johannesburg - Former long-distance ace Elana Meyer is confident the organisers of the Cape Town Marathon will succeed in their attempt to make it one of the most popular and prestigious 42km races in the world.
The annual race, to be held in September, was relaunched this year with the long-term aim of being included in the World Marathon Majors series, alongside world-renowned marathons in New York, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo.
"Our vision is to make the race one of the biggest city marathons around the world," Meyer, an ambassador for the annual event, said on Wednesday.
"Africa produces more than 90 percent of the world's best marathon runners but there are no marathons with IAAF Label status on the continent.
"We're realistic that it won't happen in year one, but in three years I'd like to see 30 000 people taking part."
The organisers announced a significant increase in prize money this month, with R265 000 on offer for the first man and woman across the line, and over R1.1 million available to the first 10 men and women.
Meyer, who holds the SA women's marathon record, believed there was more, however, to creating a major international road running event than offering lots of cash to elite athletes.
"There has been an effort to create big 42km races in South Africa but it's about more than just prize money," she said.
"You also need to focus on marketing and hosting a world-class event, in order to receive accreditation as an IAAF Bronze, Silver or Gold Label race."
Meyer, a former Olympic 10 000m silver medallist and multiple world record holder on the road, said they hoped to attract some of the world's top elite athletes to boost the prestige of the event.
"It will take time to establish the race but we'll need international athletes to do that.
"We've had unbelievable interest from athletes all over the world, especially Africa, who want to run the race.
"It will also incorporate the SA Marathon Championships, so hopefully it will attract a lot of the country's top runners who will have an opportunity to showcase their talents at home."
Fellow race ambassador and former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar had already confirmed his participation, and Meyer said she was also likely to take part for charity, despite being shaken up during a training run this week.
Meyer, 47, was approached by a knife-wielding attacker, who demanded she hand over her cell phone while running near her home in Stellenbosch (nearly 50km outside Cape Town) on Monday, but she was able to push him away and escape unharmed.
She did not believe her experience highlighted any real danger for foreigners taking part in the race.
The City of Cape Town had cracked down on crime but it had spread to outlying areas in the Western Cape, according to Meyer, and she urged runners from around the world to enter the race.
"We live in such a beautiful country and this kind of thing affects people everywhere.
"There has also been a concerted effort to clean up the crime in Cape Town.
"In the 1990s New York was a terrible city with lots of crime, but the marathon there has always been very popular.
"New York is much safer now, so we know it's possible to turn things around, and we're positive about the future of the Cape Town Marathon."