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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

Mokoka makes remarkable comeback to the track

South African marathon sensation Stephen Mokoka made a remarkable comeback to the track after nearly four years when he clocked 13:45 in 5 000m during yesterday's KwaZulu-Natal Athletics meeting at the Kings Park Athletics Stadium. His last track race came during the 2017 World Championships in London where he took 20th position in the 10 000m in a time of 28:14 over a minute behind winner Mo Farah.

So Mokoka surprised a few eyebrows with his commanding run over twelve and a half laps of the track. The 36-year-old SA half marathon record holder says although the windy conditions made it challenging for him to run a good time, the typically hot Durban weather was ideal for athletes that still dream of qualifying for the Olympic Games.

Mokoka on his way to winning the 5 000m in Durban yesterday. Photo Credit: Mdu Khumalo.

"These are Olympics conditions but the wind was too much. The heat wasn't too bad" said Mokoka, who is the owner of a 13:11 personal best over 5 000m. "If you want to qualify for Olympics, these are kind of weather conditions you get. So if you need to qualify for 5 000m then these are conditions because finals start at night around 21:00. I think for me the wind made it difficult because I couldn't maintain the faster tempo but I managed to run 2:45 all the way. The wind was the toughest thing on the day," said the 8-time SA 10 000m champion.

Mokoka, who represented Team SA at both Rio 2016 and London 2012 revealed that he cancelled his trip to Siena in Italy in April to run a marathon organised by World Athletics in favour of devoting more time to his preparations for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics which kickoff in July. He says he discussed his decision with his Italian manager Federico Rosa.

Mokoka in action in the men's marathon at the 2012 London Olympics running alongside eventual winner Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

"I made a change in terms of the race I was supposed to go to run - a marathon," explained the Boxer Athletic Club Athlete. "I changed my mind and I'm no longer going to run. I'm going to focus on the Olympics thats why I keep myself busy with the track. And next month I would start to prepare for Olympics. Personally, I feel it's too close. After you run a marathon you need a month to recover and if I take a month then it's means I would be fine by May 11. I can't prepare a marathon in 8 weeks as I usually always takes me four months. So it better if I start in April, May, June, July then I would be fit for marathon in August."

The 2:07 marathoner is crossing his fingers that Melikhaya Frans manages to be part of country's Olympics squad. Frans must run 2:11:30 at Copenhagen Marathon in Denmark in May in order to unseat Elroy Gelant for the third and final spot in the SA Olympic Marathon squad. Mokoka wished Frans well.

Mokoka has been enjoying Durban off-late. Here he is pictured training at the Kings Park Stadium in February while on holiday with his wife. Photo Credit: Cuan Walker.

"I hope he does well. But I'm also crossing fingers to be part of the team because if someone runs faster then you can get kicked out of the team," said the man who has secured his Olympic qualification with a 2:08:05 run at the Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan in March 2020. "But I wish him luck and hopes he runs very well. I have been lonely since Lusapho (April) started getting injuries because it was me and him back then. To see guys coming on board is very nice. Melikhaya is a good guy and have known him from a young age. And I hope he makes it to the team as it would be good for the country and him too," he said.

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