Hendrick Ramaala and his compatriots will have it tough in their pursuit of glory in the Nedbank Matha Series half- marathon on Saturday, because Wirimai Juwawo will not surrender his title without a fight.
The Zimbabwean has confirmed that he will be part of this Athletics South Africa season opener that starts at the High Performance Centre of the University of Pretoria at 6am.
Juwawo won last year's race in a time of 1hr:04min:35sec and is once again widely tipped to defend his title on Saturday. This is in spite of the fact that Ramaala and other locals are reportedly in peak condition.
Ramaala came second last year in a time of 1:05:41.
Juwawo could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Other top South African athletes who have confirmed their participation include Richard Mavuso, George Mofokeng and Enos Matalane.
Though there will be more than 20 athletes from Lesotho in the race, ASA could not confirm whether road running queen Mmamorallo Tjoka will be available to defend the women's title.
Tjoka has been on top of her game and last year she made history when she won the Soweto Marathon for an unparalleled fourth time on the trot.
Other top marathoners from Lesotho who have the aptitude to shine in Tshwane on Saturday include Moeketsi Mosuhli and Lebenya Nkoka, who run in the colours of Toyota Running Club.
"We are still busy with the entries and I can't confirm more names of the local athletes who will be competing. But we expect a strong field in both the men's and women's categories," ASA communications and events manager Phiwe Mlangeni-Tsholetsane told Sowetan yesterday.
"Last year the titles in both categories were won by athletes from outside the country but I think the situation will be different on Saturday.
"The majority of our athletes did not spend enough time with their families since they were hard at training preparing for the race.
"They all want to start the new year positively by winning the Matha Series on Saturday."
Late entries will be accepted at Pilditch Stadium tomorrow between 8am and 6pm.