'We need a South African style of running' - Mokoka
As one of only two South African men to run under 28 minutes for 10km Stephen Mokoka believes the key to improving local performance and competing with the East Africans lies in defining a national running style. Although Shadrack Hoff was the first one to do it when he ran 27:50 in 2002, Mokoka's 27:38 national record set in 2015 has remained unthreatened as no South African man has managed to run within 30 seconds of that time clocking since. Tshipi believes it's because of the absence of a national running culture that would allow the country's top runners to work together.
"Every country has its own unique way of racing. You look at East Africans they go for a suicidal pace. It's actually easier to push the second half of the race than to go suicide because you pay once you hit the wall. You look at Americans - they run systematically. So I wish we can have our own way of racing. I wish we can have our own way of racing," he said.
Mokoka's candid comments came during a live panel discussion ahead of the Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 10k which takes place on Sunday. Expected to challenge the likes of Kenya's Daniel Simui Ebenyo who ran 26:58 in January, the multiple SA record champion and record holder argues that local athletes have the talent but need to work on their racing brains if they are to emerge victorious against the Ethiopians and Kenyans.
"It depends which style do we prefer. I remember when I was running in Durban (Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10k) last year, I started with a 2:48 first kilometre which is 28:20 10km pace. Then I find the guys going 8:14 through 3 kays! I asked them where are you going? I think we as South Africans must find a way that can make us run very quickly. I remember when I ran my 27:38, we went 14:04 through halfway. So it's always nice to be able to pace systematically. If we work in a group then let's pace systematically," he explained.
Although likely to be viewed as a criticism of local athletes by some, what the man who gold in the 10 000m at the 2016 African Championships is essentially asking is why South African athletes sometimes struggle to convert fast starts into fast times? His insight is perhaps one of the reasons why he doesn't always go with the lead bunch of athletes and comes from behind like he did when he finished in third during last year's Absa RUN YOUR CITY Series race in Cape Town.
Mokoka will line up alongside Elroy Gelant as they face Ebenyo, Isaac Kipkemboi and other East Africans. SA 10 000m champion Mbuleli Mathanga as well as up and coming 21-year old Maxime Chaumeton are also in the lineup, but reigning SA 10km and 21km champion Precious Mashele is out due to illness.