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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

April backs Mokoka to emulate Thugwane

South African marathoner Lusapho April thinks Stephen Mokoka is a strong medal contender at the rescheduled Olympics Games in Tokyo. Mokoka is amongst three male marathoners named in the Team SA squad including Desmond Mokgobu and Elroy Gelant. In history, only Josia Thungwane has managed to collect a medal over the marathon distance after his heroic run in 1996 at the Atlanta Games in the USA. April, who represented the country over 42,2km at the 2016 Rio Olympics believes Mokoka can emulate Thugwane triumphs and etch himself into history books.

"It's a very good team, and I have faith in Mokoka," explains the three-time winner of the Hanover Marathon in Germany. "Not that I don't have faith in other runners but Mokoka has been in the good form especially in the past two seasons. His experience competing on the world stage will come in handy and we must not forget his superb effort in the World Championships in Doha in 2019 (where he finished in position 5). So I'm quite positive he is going to do well. My money is on him since he is a good shape plus mentally he is in a good state of mind. But we can't write the other guys off because Olympics are tactical so chances for surprises are always there," he said.

Mokoka in action alongside eventual gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda in the men's marathon at London 2012 where he finished in 49th place in 2:19:52. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

The 39-year-old National 25km record holder says Mokgobu, who is going to the Olympics for the first time in his career, must not put himself under unnecessary pressure but instead enjoy this lifetime moment. "Mokgobu must enjoy the moment as long as he is fully prepared for the race," explains the man who took third place at the 2013 New York Marathon.

"It a big stage because not everyone gets to say I'm running a marathon in the Olympics. It's quite an achievement on its own. So no pressure at all. He must get there and enjoy himself. At the Olympics, you get to be in the same bunch with so-called top runners. You get to rub shoulders and probably sit next to them so it's a good feeling. So he must experience all of that plus that opens opportunities too," said the Adidas sponsored athlete.

April also represented South Africa in the marathon at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Pictiured here in London where he took 43rd place in a time of 2:19. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

With 36-year old Mokoka possibly in the twilight of his career, April believes there is a good crop of upcoming South African athletes expected to dominate in the near future. "Something is cooking in Durban if you can take a close eye into athletics now," said April.

"I think Mathanga (Mbuleli) and Mbanjwa (Sipho) are the next guys expected to be good marathoners in the future, including Precious Mashele. Mashele is the right hands under Hendrick Ramaala because he is someone who has experience in competing at the highest level. So the future of the marathon in the country is good. It's a matter of being taken care of and not rushed into the process. I believe these guys can even crack the SA marathon record one day," he concluded.

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