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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Male pacemakers for SA women could guide them to qualification for global championships

South Africans drew a collective gasp of horror when World Athletics published their new qualification standards for major championships last week. To put things into perspective, any man wishing to represent SA in the 10 000m at the World Championships in Budapest next year, will have to smash Hendrick Ramaala's 22-year-old national record (27:29.94) by twenty seconds in order to qualify for the global showpiece. Yet as difficult as those standards are Gladwin Mzazi believes that local women in particular can be competitive if they can get the right pacing support both in training and on race day.

In the twilight of a career that saw him win two World University Games titles over the half marathon and 10 000m, the 33-year-old is now making a name for himself as a more than adequate pacer for some of the world's top women. In May he paced multiple World Record holder Genzebe Dibaba to a personal best 31:02 at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 10k, and then followed that up by guiding Kenya's Jesca Chelangat to the second fastest 10km time ever run by a woman on SA soil when she won the Absa RYC Durban 10k in 30:41.

Mzazi paces Jesca Chelangat to within split seconds of a new SA All-Comers Record at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10k. Photo Credit: Stillwater Sports/Josh Reid.

"I always train with the Phalula twins so pacing for me it's not so complicated," he told #TheTopRunner after he marshalled Chelangat to within a second of the SA All-Comers record. "Even my international running, I started with pace-making so for the ladies it's not so difficult to do the job." Drawing on the considerable experience of Mzazi leads this writer to conclude that with the correct build-up more SA women could be paced to run faster times - especially on the road.

"It starts from training. If you say today I'm training maybe 1000m's under three minutes, then you must know every 200m and 400m what your splits are. So when you go to the race you are ready. You must also communicate with the athlete because sometimes they can start a bit slow in the race because the body is not yet warm, but as you go along they adjust and that's where you have to communicate with your athlete," explained the man who is a teacher by profession.

Mzazi paces multiple World Record holder Genzebe Dibaba to a new 10km PB at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 10k. Photo Credit: Stillwater Sports/Jaco Wolmarans.

Mzazi's insight suggests that if more local races employed the services of male pacemakers for women this could help South African women to achieve the tough international qualification standards. Consider the marathon where SA women must run 2:28:00 or faster in order to qualify for Hungary: only Gerda Steyn managed to run faster than that in 2021 with Irvette van Zyl clocking 2:28:40 to qualify for #Tokyo2020. Yet during the same time period Dominique Scott, Tayla Kavanagh, Glenrose Xaba, Kesa Molotsane and Lebo Phalula have all managed to run under 33 minutes which predicts a sub 2:30 marathon time at the very least and 2:28 on a good day.

It means that when the locally-based trio of Kavanagh, Xaba and Molotsane eventually step up to the marathon, and Phalula returns to racing 42,2km then they could benefit from sensible male pacemakers to help them achieve their desired qualification times. For example, in April Yalemzerf Yehualaw set a new Ethiopian national record when she won the Hamburg MArathon in 2:17:23 with the aid of male pacemakers. Perhaps the first real opportunity for that in SA would be the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in October where male pacemakers could be employed not just for the lead women, but also for a second bunch of local athletes looking to get closer to those global qualification standards.

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