NATIONAL champion Stephen Mokoka and debutant Rene Kalmer, were placed eighth and 15th, respectively, to lead the South African men's and women's teams to impressive sixth place finishes at the World Half-marathon Championship in Birmingham yesterday.
Mokoka was particularly impressive.
At 5km, which he passed in 14:30, the 24-year-old was only three seconds behind the front runners.
He had moved up one position by the 15km mark and over the last 6,1km caught another four athletes and stormed home in eighth place in 1:01:36 - only 10 seconds off his personal best.
Olebogeng Masire and Mbongeni Ngxazozo went with Mokoka early on but faded in the closing stages to finish 29th (1:03:13) and 36th (1:03:47), respectively.
Those three counted for the team competition, while Jeffrey Gwebu and Xolisa Tyali were rather disappointing.
Gwebu, the most experienced member of the South Africa team, started well but faded badly in the second half to finish 42nd in 1:04:11.
And Tyali, still 20, gained some valuable experience but struggled from halfway and limped home in 85th position in 1:09:12. Tyali needed 38:58 to cover the last 10,1km.
Up front, Eritrea's Zersenay Tadese secured his fourth straight global road running title, winning in a championship record 59:35.
Kalmer ran a well judged race to finish 15th in 1:10:37, breaking her personal best by well over a minute.
South African champion Annerien van Schalkwyk, who failed to finish last year, ran the race of her life to place 20th in 1:11:26, improving her career record by 23 seconds.
The diminutive Poppy Mlambo started slowly, but was rewarded for pacing herself as she finished 40th in 1:14:27, breaking her personal best by 14 seconds.
Race favourite Mary Keitany of Kenya won comfortably in a championship record 1:06:36. - Sapa