Durban - The high level of interest in the Comrades Marathon showed that the sport was strong in South Africa, race association official Peter Proctor said on Thursday.
The 89th edition of the world-famous run takes place this Sunday with 2014 receiving the second-biggest entry count in the history of the event.
A total of 21 090 entries were received, although 17 206 have actually registered to start, and Proctor believes those numbers should be extremely encouraging.
"We had over 20 000 entries this year, which illustrates that running is very strong in South Africa," the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) deputy chairman said in Durban ahead of the race.
"It's a milestone in athletics generally because it looked as though athletics was dying off a little bit and this proves otherwise."
International interest in the race also continued to grow with 1498 competitors, double the tally of 2009.
"Five years ago there were less than 700 international entrants," race director Rowyn James said.
"The main countries are the UK, the US, Holland and then the neighbouring African countries.
"There are 74 countries that will be represented in 2014."
This year's race, classed as a "down-run" as it starts in Pietermaritzburg and ends in Durban, also takes place under the watchful eyes of marathon race directors from across the globe, who are in KwaZulu-Natal for the 20th World Congress of AIMS (Association of International Marathons and Distance Races).
Event heads from London, New York and Boston are all in the east coast city and will watch the race.
"This is an international group of race directors from across the world who will be watching us," said Proctor, who has been with the CMA for close to 40 years.
"We've got expertise within expertise watching our race and it's a very special occasion with these esteemed people here in South Africa seeing our race."
James, the former race director and general manager of the Two Oceans Marathon, has only recently stepped into his new role. He took charge in February.
He revealed that everything was on track for race day and expected the weather conditions, which had been forecast at 23 degrees, to be perfect for running.
"From that number of 17 206 that registered, we'll probably have 15 500 to 16 000 runners actually starting on the day," Rowyn said.
"I think what's also quite important from Comrades' side, which is why we cap entries at 18 000, is the actual physical feet on the road.
"It's to ensure that we have a safe event and a fun event, so it's not a case of just being greedy and trying to get numbers in there.
"Safety is paramount for us and we want to make sure everyone has a fantastic day."