'He is my role model' - Frans pays tribute to Mokoka but vows to beat him at Absa GQEBERHA 10K
The tears welled up in Melikhaya Frans when he sat on the podium and paid an emotional tribute to Stephen Mokoka for inspiring him to become one of the best runners in the country. Speaking during yesterday's press conference ahead of tomorrow's Absa RUN YOUR CITY GQEBERHA 10K, the man who represented South Africa at the 2022 World Championships in the United States said it may never have happened had it not been for the influence that the multiple SA champion and record holder had on his career.
"I remember Stephen - when I was still young. It was in 2014 when you broke the 5000m record (13:11.44) in Stellenbosch," he told the media, sponsors and city Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality officials that had gathered at the City Hall. "I was there and I was a rabbit for the first kilometre and I looked who was coming behind me and I saw it's Stephen. Today I'm racing with him and I'd like to say to him: he is my role model. I need to tell him now not when he is no longer here on earth," said the 33-year-old.
What started as inspiration turned into friendship as Frans grew in stature. By 2021 he was ready to attempt to follow in his idol's footsteps and attempt to qualify for a major global competition. The man from The Windy City chose the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon to do it, where it would be Mokoka who won the race in 2:10:01 but in marshalling Frans for the first two thirds of the 42,2km, he assisted him to eventually clock 2:11:28 and book his ticket to Oregon.
"I watched him running a lot overseas and it was my wish to go and run outside with him. But last year he couldn't because he had injury problems. I told myself that I would carry the flag of South Africa big time! Then I made history there without him - but he still owes me. If he was there we were supposed to do fire," he said reflecting on his 2:09:24 performance in Eugene as the audience applauded generously.
Yet despite the immense respect he holds for Mokoka, the Ikhamva Athletic Club star says that won't prevent him from beating the 38-year-old during tomorrow's 10km race. With a stellar field boasting the likes of Kenya's Daniel Simui Ebenyo (26:58) and SA 5000m champion and Olympian Precious Mashele (28:11), Frans who will take on the Boston Marathon later is month, is adamant that he must win the inaugural Absa RUN YOUR CITY GQEBERHA 10K for the people of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality.
"The title must stay here at home. I'm excited that the Absa RUN YOUR CITY series is also coming to PE now because it was always my wish for us to have a race like this here. I don't care who they bring, I know that I will win the race because when I run at home I always feel so strong. I'm ready to run on Sunday. Anything can happen on the race day and we hope for good weather."