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  • Writer's pictureManfred Seidler

Fireworks expected in Gqeberha

Fireworks expected in Gqeberha

The return of national elite level road racing will take place tomorrow Saturday 1 May with the NMB Half Marathon in Gqeberha, which also incorporates the SA Half Marathon Championships, so much is at stake for the local contingent.

Massive Prize Money

The Friendly City is known for hosting races that are flat and produce fast times. Expect more of that this weekend as a stellar field will be chasing a whopping R112 500 first prize purse. That and the fact that there has been no racing at this level in over a year has seen arguably one of the best fields ever assembled for 1 May – made even more exciting by the inclusion of some of the worlds best athletes, particularly on the women’s front.

“The NMB ½ Marathon has been awarded World Athletics Elite Label status,” says Race Director Michael Mbambani. “This is why the prize money is so good. But it is also what makes the race so exciting. We are looking forward to some incredible athletes descending on Gqeberha over and above the South Africans.”

Kibitok and Kipkoech headline race

Mbambani has every reason to be excited. The race will feature not only South Africa’s best, but also Kenyans Brillian Jepkorir Kipkoech and Felix Kibitok – the latter the fastest half marathon runner ever to set foot on South African soil.

SA Half Marathon record holder Stephen Mokoka is looking to defend his title. Photo Credit: NMB 1/2 Marathon.

Kibitok boasts a sub 60 for the half marathon, having run 59:08 in Prague in 2019. In fact only he and Stephen Mokoka have gone under 60min for the Half Marathon with the South African setting a new National Record in Gdynia in October last year at the World Half Marathon Championships where he clocked 59:48. But Mokoka seems vulnerable for the first time in a long time after a 5th place finish at the Endurocad 5000m in Stellenbosch at the end of March. Instead it seems the in-form Precious Mashele will line up as favourite to dethrone the defending champion. Mashele has been in scintillating form, clocking a 10 000m PB of 27:55.87 before lowering his 5000m PB a few days later to 13:27.57.

Also in the mix is the exciting young talent, Mbuleli Mathanga who won the National 10 000m title a fortnight ago and followed that up with a silver medal in the 5000m behind Mashele two days later. But if either one of the “young bucks” think Mokoka will lie down and roll over, they will be in for a rude awakening. No other South African knows what it takes to run sub 60 for the half marathon. And waiting in the wings to pick up any stragglers will be Uganda’s Maxwell Rotich who boasts a best of 60:20 in the half marathon and 28:37 for 10km.

Brillian to be Brilliant?

The woman’s out and out favourite has to be Kenya’s Brillian Jepkorir Kipkoech who finished 9th at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2020 with a 66:56 clocking. That’s 74 seconds faster than Namibia’s Helalia Johannes who has fond memories of South Africa with multiple wins. But she will have her work cut out for in the city formerly known as Port Elizabeth.

Hard on their heels will be the likes of Ethiopia’s Alemaddis Eyayu, who has Silver Label status and was in scintillating form running a 31:39 in the 10km in Wurzburg in 2019, before COVID shut everything down. That year she ran five 10km races and went sub 32 on three occasions and never slower than 32 minutes.

South Africa's Gerda Steyn is in good form over the full marathon distance but will she be able to keep up with the East Africans over the shorter discipline. Photo Credit: NMB 1/2 Marathon.

2019 winner, Tadu Nare Teshoma is also back and her 4:13.71 clocking over 1500m recently shows she has speed. But will she have the legs to go the distance? That she is no slouch over 21km is proven by her 69:57 run at RAK in the UAE. Local ladies Gerda Steyn and Glenrose Xaba will also have their say as will a rejuvenated Irvette van Zyl. Steyn took the 22-year-old Marathon record of Colleen de Reuck down to 2:25.28 recently, while Xaba has gone 15:55.25 in finishing second in the women’s 5000m at the National Championships. Van Zyl took a whopping three minutes off her marathon PB to run 2:28.40 at the same race as Steyn and her confidence will be sky high.

The men’s race will be at 07h00 and the women’s at 07h15. The race will be streamed live on the Eastern Province Athletics Facebook page.

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