SA ROAD RUNNERS ON THE RISE

Though the season isn’t quite over yet, the 2021 road running campaign has been a cracker, with South Africa showcasing its quality and depth at elite level. Stephen Mokoka proved he is still a force by reclaiming the national 42km title at the Cape Town Marathon last month, but this year belonged to Precious Mashele.

After shining on the track by qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, Mashele lit up the roads of SA with some stellar performances throughout the season. In Gqeberha in May, he achieved a rare feat by dropping Mokoka in a late sprint – beating the king at his own game – to win the national half-marathon title. And after setting a 21km personal best of 1:00:00 in Poznan last month, he returned home to do it again – breaking Mokoka in the chase for the line to set a 10km career best of 28:11 at the Durban 10k CityRun. And the battles between Mashele and Mokoka have ensured their compatriots have been kept on their toes.

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A total of 12 South African men have run under 29:00 over the 10km distance this year, seven men have gone under 1:02:00 in the half-marathon, and four athletes – Mokoka, Elroy Gelant, Melikhaya Frans and Sboniso Sikhakhane – have dipped under 2:13:00 in the marathon. Among the country’s top women, Gerda Steyn was awesome. She ran under 2:27:00 on two occasions – breaking the 25-year-old SA 42km record in the process – and finished 15th in the Olympic marathon.

Irvette van Zyl had another bucket of bad luck dumped on her just before the Olympics, but she too was superb before she got injured, setting a 42km personal best of 2:28:40 in Siena and breaking the 50km world record in Gqeberha. Over shorter distances, Tayla Kavanagh emerged as a real international prospect, with the 20-year-old athlete winning the SA 10m title in 32:10, and it was great to see Kesa Molotsane dipping under 33 minutes as she displayed a return to form in the closing stages of the season.

And, as has been the case for the last few years, Glenrose Xaba was prominent throughout the campaign. Having shone on the track earlier in the year, Xaba’s consistent season on the road was highlighted by her 1:09:30 half-marathon performance in Gqeberha, as she ran under 1:10:00 for the third year in a row. In terms of depth, some more work needs to be done to build the foundation among SA’s elite women, but they too are in a good space. Seven South African women ran under 34:00 over 10km this year and four women – Xaba, Steyn, Van Zyl and Dom Scott-Efurd – went under 1:13:00 in the half-marathon.

With the 2022 season including the World Half-Marathon Championships in Yangzhou and the World Championships in Eugene, SA’s top road runners will have a chance to showcase their talent at the highest level. They’ll have to be at their best to give themselves a chance, but if they can carry their domestic form abroad, they should be ready to put up a fight.

Photo credit: Tobias Ginsberg

Written by Wesley Botton