A running start to the year

2013-01-03 00:00

ANGOLA may have the distinction of hosting the last road race of the year and the first track race of the next year.

Atsedu Tesfaye closed his racing year on Monday night winning the 57th Sao Silvestre de Luanda in front of over a million spectators who lined the streets of the Angolan capital.

“It was a great race. The time was not the fastest, but it was very hot compared with last year,” said the Ethiopian, who was runner up to Zerzenay Tadesse last year but went one better, recording 28 minutes and 16 seconds despite the 30 degrees Celsius start and 70% humidity.

The gun released over 1 000 runners with a top-class field that saw the large early pack charge up the initial climbs, passing through the first kilometre in two minutes 37 seconds. Kenyan Alex Korio was first to test the pace, with Tesfaye quick to respond, and a second break put the duo 15 metres clear and never to be challenged.

Shortly before eight kilometres, Korio flashed the Ethiopian a telling look, and without further question Tesfaye used the steep decent to pull away for victory.

Korio was 60 metres adrift at the line with Kibet Kosgei finishing strongly for third place in 28,31.

The quality of the field was such that, despite the adverse weather conditions, seven runners broke 29 minutes and the top 18 were under the 30-minute barrier. The top 10 honours were equally shared between Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes.

Victory was more clear-cut in the women’s race, where Jeptoo Priscah took the tape in 32, 31 with Kipkoech Chepkorir and Mercy Jerotich finishing in 32,43 and 32,58 respectively, to give the Kenyan women a clean sweep of the podium.

With Alice Mogire filling fourth, fifth-placed Azemra Hagos was the best of the Ethiopians in 33,16.

The race is the largest and oldest in Angola. With a total purse of over US$145 000 — US$15 000 for first place and awards for the top 20 men and 15 women — it is one of the richest and most fiercely contested 10-kilometres on the continent. The event has been held every year since its inception in 1954, with the exceptions of 1961 and 1978.

One feature of the event is that all elite athletes have to then compete in a distance track event over 1 500 m to 10 000 m on January 2, and failure to do so costs them 50% of any prize money won in the New Years’ eve race.

Although not a running nation, the event attracts crowds five to six deep along the entire 10 km route, as well as live TV and radio, which broadcasts to Portugal and on DStv. Clearly it captures the imagination of the population, something that the sport needs both there and in South Africa.

With the curtain pulled down on 2012, the best performances of the year must go to Caster Semenya for her silver Olympic medal, and Stephen Mokoka who once again dominated the athletic scene in cross-country, distance track, and on the road. Although not making much of an impression in the Olym­pics, Mokoka closed his season with a 2:09 marathon in Shanghai.

Locally, it was a similar story for Tanith Maxwell, who was dominant on the local distance scene, be it off or on road, and representing the country at the Olympic games, albeit with a less-than-planned outcome.

Administratively the sport in the province took on a new look with Sello Mokoena holding the reigns over a completely new if not “novice” executive, and a sub-structure of motivated and passionate commission members, all of whom have had to find their feet and build from the highly eroded financial and structural base they inherited.

There can and will be no easy fix, but entering into the first few days of 2013, the signs are already there that athletics in the province is set for a brighter future.

The road calendar kicks off with the Ronnie Davel 16-kilometre around the Mondi forests in Hilton on January 13, and with races such as the KZN 10 km Championships in March; the SA 10 km Championships in April; the planned return of the Indian Ocean Marathon; the second, even bigger Mandela Marathon; and a new Ethekwini Marathon late in the year, there is much for runners to look forward to.

For South Africa’s elite, the focus will be on qualifying for World Championships in Moscow in August. Maxwell may take it as it comes, but be sure that Shane Victor is intent on overcoming injury to gain his place to defend the 4 x 400 silver medal won in Daegu. Then there are a number of others, including Justine Palframan, who will be looking to make the team. The junior sprint sensation has been spending months in Jamaica gaining the knowledge, expertise and coaching that will surely put her on the plane to Russia.

The year is barely born, but there is loads of potential in the months to come.

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