Mokoka ready to lead SA's half marathon battle

Stephen Mokoka (Gallo Images)
Stephen Mokoka (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Using his experience, Stephen Mokoka hopes to put up a challenge on Saturday when he leads the South African team at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Cardiff, Wales.

Mokoka has competed four times at the global 21km showpiece, twice finishing eighth.

He took 12th position at the last edition of the championships in Copenhagen two years ago, guiding the national men's squad to fourth place in the team competition behind powerhouse road running nations Eritrea, Kenya and Ethiopia.

“I'm hoping to go with a decent pace and just try get a good time and a good position,” Mokoka said, who inspected the course yesterday. “I am hoping for very good time.”

Mokoka will be joined in the men's race by national champion Lucky Mohale, Gladwin Mzazi, Mbongeni Ngxazozo and World Half-Marathon Championships debutant, Vuyisile Tshoba.

The entire team went for a run shortly after arriving in Cardiff, and though it was cold and wet, Mokoka believed he was in shape to approach his Personal Best of 1:00:47 if conditions are conducive on the day.

“There's a bit of rain from time to time and it's a little bit cold, but if it's five degrees (Celsius) then that's perfect weather for a long race,” he said. “I'm excited. The only thing that's not nice is the rain.”

The course line-up is spearheaded by Mo Farah, a five-time world champion and double Olympic gold medallist on the track, who aims to become the first British athlete to lift the men's crown at the 21km showpiece.

Kenyan runner Geoffrey Kamworor returns to defend the global half-marathon title he won two seasons back in Denmark. He is the current IAAF World Cross Country champion.

The 100-strong field includes nine men who have run under 60 minutes in their careers, and while it is a world class line-up, all five members of the SA team have dipped under 1:02:30 in the last nine months and they will hope to put up a fight in the team competition.

The SA women's squad will also be eager to make an impact, though they are up against a full-strength 91-member field including 15 women who have gone below the 1:10:00 barrier.

Lebo Phalula, who won the national title in 1:11:54 last season, joins twin sister Lebogang Phalula as they turn out at the biennial half-marathon championships for the first time. The sisters were part of the ASA Team that won bronze at the CAA Cross Country Championships in Yaounde, Cameroon on March 12, 2016.

They will be backed by the experienced trio of Nolene Conrad, Cornelia Joubert and Zintle Xiniwe.

The women's race will start at 19:35 (SA time) and the men's event gets underway at 20:10.

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