British elite runner mugged at knifepoint training in South Africa

  • Thieves threatened to cut off elite runner’s finger if he didn’t hand over ring

Great Britain cross country runner Tom Evans has been brutally robbed of his wedding ring and a high-tech running watch at knifepoint while training in South Africa for one of the toughest ultra-trail races in the world.

Former British army captain Tom, 31, was left in fear of his life when he was ambushed by two robbers while out running alone on Table Mountain in Cape Town yesterday.

The former Welsh Guards captain was rugby-tackled by two men close to the King’s Blockhouse, built in 1796 on Devil’s Peak,  and fought back despite being outnumbered two-to-one.

He managed to grab back his snatched mobile phone and sent the larger man packing – but the smaller mugger pulled a machete and a kitchen knife from a backpack.

Elite athlete Tom – sponsored by Red Bull and Adidas – said: ‘Once the knife was at my throat they made it very clear they would kill me if I carried on fighting so I stopped.’

Elite runner Tom Evans has been robbed at knifepoint while training in South Africa for one of the world's toughest races

Thieves made off with valuables including his wedding ring - his wife is international triathlete Sophie Coldwell (pictured with Tom)

Tom Evans and Sophie Coldwell on their wedding day last year; they marked their first wedding anniversary less than a week ago

Tom Evans and Sophie Coldwell out on an excursion together. He said giving up his wedding ring was 'very hard to do'

Table Mountain in South Africa, where Tom Evans was mugged at knifepoint for his valuables

He continued: ‘They got my iPhone 15 and then took my Garmin watch – both worth about £2500 – then went through my backpack pulling everything out, asking how much things were worth.

‘Then they spotted my wedding ring and said if I didn’t take it off they would cut if off. I have just celebrated my first wedding anniversary and I asked them to not take it.

‘The knife was pushed in harder and I thought Sophie would rather have me back in one piece than the ring, so I took it off and gave it to them – which was so very hard to do.

‘They told me not to follow and ran off, and I headed back down off the contour path and down towards Rhodes Memorial and the university to report what happened.’

A fellow runner found traumatised Tom and guided him back down the mountain and reported the attack – one of a string of muggings on trail runners and hikers. 

The South African National Park Rangers searched the area along with police but could find no trace of the pair who attacked as Tom was out on a 40km mountain training run.

Tom was one of the star runners who had top celebrity billing for those competing in the RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km race and was hot favourite to win the tough event.

But the mountain ordeal has traumatised the elite athlete so much he no longer feels safe to continue his training programme. He is flying home on a British Airways plane tonight.

Tom of Loughborough, Leicestershire, said: ‘I’ve spoken it over with Sophie and it makes sense that if I can’t get myself in the right frame of mind physically or mentally [I should] fly home.

‘I have travelled all over Africa and had great experiences but this is my first time in South Africa and in Cape Town and it is very sad that I have been forced to leave.

‘But what happened was very traumatic with two men with a machete and kitchen knife threatening to kill me – and that will sadly be my memory of my first visit over here.

‘Will I come back? Who knows? I’ve always wanted to do the Cape Town ultra-trail as it is one of the toughest in the world and I hope in the future I will catch a plane back.

‘But it is not fair on Sophie to go back up on that mountain to train each day and if I can’t train then I can’t do myself justice in the race – so I have no option but to pack my bags.

‘I only got here on Tuesday so it has been short but sadly not-so-sweet.’

Tom Evans running the 50km Ultra Trail in Snowdonia earlier this year. He finished first

Tom says he isn't sure whether he will return to South Africa after his traumatic experience - which happened on his first visit to the country

The route of the RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town 100km race - Table Mountain, where Tom Evans was mugged, forms part of the route

Athletes running in the mountains overlooking Cape Town ahead of the 100km race

The route offers breathtaking views of the mountains that surround the South African capital

The former soldier married international triathlete Sophie Coldwell, 28, in November last year and they celebrated their first wedding anniversary on the 12th of this month.

He changed careers after taking part in the world’s toughest race – the 251km desert ultra Marathon des Sables – where he finished third. He then left the British army to become an athlete. 

This year Tom has won the 100 mile USA Western States Endurance Run and the 33 mile Ultra Trail in Snowdonia and finished second in the USA Black Canyon Ultra 60 mile race.

He has run for Great Britain’s cross country and trail running team and is training for the next Olympics. He had hoped to celebrate Xmas by winning the Cape Town ultra.

Tom had flown into Cape Town International Airport on Tuesday. A British doctor, Kar Hao Tech, was shot dead at a nearby township in August and an American tourist, Walter Fischel was shot in the mouth earlier this month.

Tom was running alone on a rugged trail in preparation for the rugged 100km RMB Ultra Trail in Cape Town next Friday which takes athletes up and down numerous mountains.

On the day Tom was mugged the Minister of Police Bheki Cele revealed the latest crime figures, which showed 76 murders and 115 rapes took place every day in South Africa in the last 3 months.

Government officials insist, however, that most crime takes place in the townships and poor areas and gang turf wars and drugs. Attacks on tourists, they say, are rare.

Most tourists who are victims of crime mistakenly wander alone into known danger spots. Dr Tech and Mr Fischel had reportedly been led into dangerous areas by their satellite navigation systems.

A Table Mountain park ranger said: ‘This trail runner unfortunately was attacked by opportunist muggers but he broke the golden rule to go on the mountain alone.

‘We cannot stress enough that runners and hikers should enjoy the mountain but in groups – as if alone you are a target for muggers or helpless if you have a fall.’

The crime situation in South Africa was not helped in August, when the ANC Government ordered the early release of 15,000 men from overcrowded prisons to house more criminals.

A sharp spike in knife and gun muggings in tourist areas has been reported since the mass release and Cape Town police are organising extra patrols for the summer.


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