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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

It will be different this time - Mokoka

After finishing in fifth place at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Stephen Mokoka is aiming to go one better when he represents South Africa in the men's marathon at the Tokyo Olympics. The country's premiere 42,2km athlete looked certain to medal in Doha when he went to the front of a small leading bunch of four athletes with less than 10km to go. But he faded into fifth as Ethiopia's won the race in 2:10:40 with Mokoka 29 seconds adrift. The pain of that race is still visible in his eyes when he talks about it.

Mokoka celebrates after winning the 2016 African Championships 10 000m title in Durban. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

"Doha, is Doha. 2019 is 2019," he laughs dismissively as we probe him about what went wrong on 5 October 2019. "I think maybe in Doha I was too confident. I think my confidence came in June when I told my training partners that I was gonna run a 59 minute half marathon that year. I did it in Buenos Aires and then I said to my manager there - I'm going to win the World Championships," he told #TheTopRunner.

His 59:51 in the Argentine capital was a new national record over 21,1km which set him up for a good showing over the full marathon distance six weeks later. "Even at Nike I told them that no one is gonna stop me and I wanted to negotiate a new contract. So even in the race you could see when I was running, I was too confident. I read Julius Caesar and he says confidence will drive you to conspiracy. I believe I killed myself. But I always say, It was not my day," says the Nike-sponsored athlete who bettered that national record to 59:36 at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland last year.

Mokoka made his Olympic Marathon debut at London 2012. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

Having already represented South Africa at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games, the 36-year old could be looking at his last chance to win an Olympic medal. In London, a young Mokoka took 49th place in a time of 2:19:52 while he ran the 10 000m in Rio. As the fastest and most experienced of Team SA's three men, all eyes are on the 13-time SA champion to bring back the country's first Olympic marathon medal since Josia Thugwane's gold 25 years ago. And Mokoka is up to the task.

"It was a learning curve," says the man who is the owner of a 2:07:40 personal best as he reflects on his experience in Doha. "I think the next one which is the Olympics will be different. I always say the first time is about learning, the second time is about getting used to the environment but the third time when I go something must change," he concluded.

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