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  • Writer's pictureThathe Msimango

'The biggest prize though remains the Olympics' - Smith wins Gun Run but sticks to steeplechase

Despite winning the Outsurance Gun Run 21km race in a new lifetime best of 1:04:16, Ashley Smith has not planned to switch to road running permanently saying he still has big ambitions on track. Smith shocked the athletics community when he managed to beat a quality field in Cape Town on Sunday which included Olympians Desmond Mokgobu and Sibusiso Nzima who were relegated to second and third place respectively.

Known more for his achievements over 1500m and the 3000m steeplechase, Smith led the race from start. With 3km to go Mokgobu nearly stole the race with a surge for the finish, but the man who holds a 3:58 personal best over 1 mile hung on and then out-sprinted his competitors to beat Mokgobu by nine seconds.

Ashley Smith celebrates after winning the 2022 Outsurance Gun Run Half Marathon. Photo Credit: Outsurance Gun Run.

"Our target with the coach was to run early 62 minutes based on the training we conducted. But after 8km, there was a hill which I think played a huge role in determining the time I managed to run," explained the man who has been coached by Duane Fortuin since 2013. "I knew some big name athletes like Mokgobu and Nzima have entered the race but I told myself I would focus on my race because I have been planning for this race for 13 weeks since I came back from the African Championships. I think I was fully prepared and fit to match these quality athletes on the day. I thought if I can go with them till last 1km then speed will count in my favour. I'm happy with way I ran on the day."

That performance coupled with equally encouraging results over 10km have led some to suggest that it is time the 26-year old moved up in distance to start competing on the road. For example, in July Smith finished inside the top 20 in a star-studded field at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10k when he equalled his lifetime best with a run of 28:52. Yet despite his recent success on the road, the Stellenbosch University Student aims to concentrate on his favourite Steeplechase.

Smith flanked by runner-up Desmond Mokgobu of Entsika Athletic Club and Murray and Roberts Running Club's Sibusiso Nzima who took third place. Photo Credit: Outsurance Gun Run.

The reigning national steeplechase champion is working towards qualifying for the next Olympics games in 2024 in the French Capital of Paris. There has been an outcry about the shortage of athletes specializing in the steeplechase with national record holder (8:11.50) Ruben Ramolefi being the last athlete to represent the country at the global event during the 2008 Beijing games. In fact before Ramolefi, who went to Athens in 2004, only Shadrack Mogotsi in 1996 Atlanta has managed to achieve the same feat. The Capetonian believes he has what it takes to write himself into history books.

"I know there is a shortage of steeplechase athletes in the country, especially those who have gone to represent us in the Olympics," said the man who was eighth at the African Championships in June and holds a personal best of 8:31.15 which was set in March. "I think the most important thing for me now is to get more competition to realize my dream. If I can be able to qualify for either the 2023 World Championships (in Budapest Hungary) or the Olympics then I would be over the moon. The biggest prize though remains the Olympics. I must try to prepare as much as I can to be more ready for next year. I can't say what would happen once I face those world-class athletes at the biggest stage but once I enter the race I aim to win it," he said.

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