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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Team SA upbeat ahead of World Cross Country Champs as Muluadzi, Leeto and Xaba lead senior teams

For the first time since the year 2007, a South African team departed for the World Cross Country Championships without Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant or Precious Mashele as part of the senior men's 10km team. It represents a changing of the guard as the three all of whom have attained top twenty finishes focus on their #Paris2024 Olympic ambitions. In their absence, Kabelo Mulaudzi who was part of the 2019 team that ran in Århus and Mathews Leeto who took part in Bathurst, Australia last year, lead the men's team.

South Africa's World Cross Country team at the OR Tambo Garden Court Hotel before departing for Serbia. Photo Credit: Cecilia van Bers.

"I feel happy to be representing my country," said the man who took 121st place in Denmark. "Last time I ran the World Cross Country Championships I was injured, so I didn't run well. Then last year things didn't go well and I didn't achieve selection. But this time around I'm fit and my preparation has gone well. I think we have a strong senior men's team. I would be happy with a top twenty finish and we will challenge for the team prize," said the reigning SA 10km Cross Country Champion.

In 2023, Leeto was part of the senior men's team that included Mashele, Maxime Chaumeton, Mbuleli Mathanga, Gelant and Collen Mulaudzi that claimed fifth overall. Having raced against such global distance running stars as Jacob Kiplimo, Johsua Cheptegei, Berhu Aregawi and Geoffery Kamworor, Leeto says he gained a lot of experience from his 59th place finish, which he will pass on to some of his teammates that will be making their World Cross Country Champs debut.

The 2024 SA World Cross Country Championships Men's senior and junior teams. Photo Credit: Cecilia van Bers.

"The key thing is for you to trust your training. We need to tackle the race as one, knowing that we are all representing the country. I think our overall fitness is encouraging because when I look at how we (Leeto, Muluadzi and Bennet Seloyi) performed at the Motsepe Foundation Race to Equality it shows that we can come back with good results. When you enter a race you must forget about the 'big-names' and remember that they are people just like us."

In the women's competition all eyes will be on the in-form Glenrose Xaba who in the last three weeks has won the national 10km title as well as her first SPAR Grand Prix race since 2018. Xaba is confident on improving on the 42nd position she claimed in Australia last year.

The 2024 SA World Cross Country Championships Women's senior and junior teams, as well as team managers and coaches. Photo Credit: Cecilia van Bers.

"I'm looking forward to having a good race. I want to do my best and improve on the position I achieved last year. Maybe top twenty or top thirty would be good for me according to the shape I'm in right now. And working as a team for South Africa, I think if one of us can be in front in the top ten or twenty or thirty, then that will put us in a good position for the team prize."

The 45th World Cross Country Championships take place in Belgrade, Serbia on Saturday 30 March and will be televised live on SuperSport channel 208.

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