'We have a strong team' - Mokoka spearheads confident SA Team to World Road Running Champs
When it comes to road running, South Africa has a proud history. For instance, many people still don't know that Josiah Thugwane held his coveted Gold Medal for winning the 1996 Olympic Marathon twelve years before the first Kenyan man (the great Sammy Wanjiru) ever stood on top of an Olympic marathon podium. And while recent results have admittedly not been what they were during those heady days of Thugwane, Gert Thys and Hendrick Ramaala, the current generation are beginning to claw back some pride, particularly over the half marathon distance.
Stephen Mokoka is one such example. In four consecutive World Half Marathon Championships appearances, he has never finished outside the top 20 and on his last outing in 2020 he claimed seventh place in a time of 59:36 which still stands as the national record. This time around, the 38-year-old spearheads a talented team including SA Half Marathon Champion Thabang Mosiako, SA 10km Record Holder and Olympian Precious Mashele and two-time Olympian Elroy Gelant. Mokoka believes that this is the strongest senior men's team that the country has been able to assemble for the World Half Marathon Champs in a long time, which leads him to believe that they are in with a chance of claiming that elusive team medal.
"We have a strong team," he said at the OR Tambo Garden Court Hotel before the team's departure for the World Road Running Championships which get underway in the Latvian City of Riga on Friday 29 September. "Three guys ran a 60 minute 21km earlier in the season and Elroy ran a 61. I'm hoping that we can repeat the same thing because if we can all lower those times then it will be great because to place in the top three teams we just need to run three hours in total as a team. So I'm hoping we can have a good day and if the weather cooperates then I'll be happy. We are all hungry and we hope to do our best."
While Mokoka will spearhead the men's team, the women's 21km team will be lead by Glenrose Xaba who is in sublime form this year after breaking into the top three on the SA All-Time list for both the half marathon and the 10km event. Xaba knows what it's like to participate in this competition. In 2020 the 28-year-old clocked 1:09:26 for 16th position. Three years later SuperCharger is hoping to run even faster, but more importantly she is also confident of a good team position in quartet that includes Cacisile Sosibo, Cian Oldknow and Kesa Molotsane.
"2020 was my first time at the World Half Marathon Champs and I ran a PB at the time. The problem was that I didn't have any teammates but this time I have teammates so I think we have a chance to be on the podium. I saw the results of 2020 and I thought wow, it's possible to be in the podium or the top five. If we can all run under 70 minutes then we can compete for the team prize," she smiled.
One key difference this time is that World Athletics have changed the format. What was a 21km championships is now a three-day festival of road running including a 5km Mass Participation and Elite Race as well as an inaugural road mile competition. In the mile South Africa will be represented by Ryan Mphahlele and Carina Viljoen, while Nicholas Seoposengwe, Maxime Chaumeton, Tayla Kavanagh and Kyla Jacobs will take on the 5km road race.