THRILLING BATTLES ON THE CARDS AT 10KM CHAMPS

At this stage of the year, it’s hard to predict who will be holding up well enough to give it a go, but if South Africa’s top athletes are up for it, the SA 10km Championships should deliver some thrilling encounters in Durban this weekend. With the national championships being incorporated in the Absa 10k City Run, strong international fields are expected to drive the pace, but SA’s elite are also likely to make their presence felt up front.

National road running king Stephen Mokoka hasn’t had his best year, and his failure to finish the Olympic marathon in Tokyo in August left a rare blemish on his career record. Proving he will not relinquish his throne easily, however, Mokoka bounced back to win the national 42km title at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon earlier this month.

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He hasn’t displayed much in terms of raw speed this season, but Mokoka is still quick when he needs to be, and as long as he’s got something left after his latest marathon effort, he’ll be difficult to beat if he turns out in the race for the SA 10km title. But as much as he maintains his ability across a wide range of distances, Mokoka will have to put up a helluva fight against Precious Mashele.

Mashele has been superb this year and he’s got fresher legs than Mokoka. After setting personal bests over 5 000m (13:11.65) and 10 000m (27:55.87) on the track earlier this season, Mashele stunned Mokoka with a late turn of speed to win the national half-marathon title in May. Flaunting his form once again, he finished fourth at the Poznan Half-Marathon in Poland less than two weeks ago, clocking another personal best (1:00:00).

Meanwhile, in the women’s race this weekend, Gerda Steyn and Glenrose Xaba will be the favourites, as long as they’re in the field. Steyn is phenomenal, but she’s done a lot of travelling in the last few months and she might have more pressing issues to attend to at her base in Dubai. If she is on the start line, however, she’ll want to close out a memorable 2021 campaign with another solid result after shattering the national marathon record in Siena in April (2:25:28), finishing 15th at the Tokyo Olympics in August, and securing the SA 42km title at the recent Cape Town Marathon. Xaba, meanwhile, has flown under the radar a bit this year after missing out on the Olympics, but she’s as dangerous as ever. Her choppy, powerful stride carried her to the SA 10 000m title on the track in Pretoria in April, and she went on to claim the national half-marathon crown in 1:09:30 in Gqeberha the following month.

And while Ethiopian athlete Tadu Nare was virtually unbeatable in the recent Spar Grand Prix 10km series, taking the spotlight, Xaba dipped under 33 minutes at the Durban and Gqeberha legs, and she will be the favourite for gold this weekend, even if Steyn lines up. Of course, there will be some athletes looking to spring a surprise, and the likes of Mbuleli Mathanga, Ryan Mphahlele and Tayla Kavanagh will be chasing podium places if they’re in the field. So we don’t know for certain who will be there, and who might decide they’re not up for it, but whoever turns out at the SA Championships in Durban on Sunday, it promises to be a cracking race.

Photo credit: Werner Hills

Written by Wesley Botton