Stephen Mokoka delighted after claiming half marathon title

Stephen Mokoka believes that road running is on the up in South Africa.
Stephen Mokoka believes that road running is on the up in South Africa.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

Stephen Mokoka lit up the finish chute along Marine Drive as he sped home to claim the Nelson Mandela Bay Athletics South Africa Half Marathon Championships title in Port Elizabeth on Saturday morning.

The event‚ which includes the CAA Southern Region Championships‚ saw Mokoka produce a stellar final surge to outrun arch rival Elroy Galant‚ crossing the line in 60 minutes and 56 seconds as the sun rose over the start/finish line.

Gelant‚ who ran an aggressive race and put pressure on Mokoka‚ took second place in 61:00‚ a new personal best‚ while Precious Mashele (61:21) finished third to round out an all South African podium.

Ethiopia's Tadu Neru won the women’s race in 1:10.20 with Kenya’s Sarah Naibei second in a time of 1:10.54 while Glenrose Xaba claimed third spot and also the national title in her first ever competitive half marathon.

Speaking after his win‚ Mokoka said: “I told you these young boys are getting scary now‚ they make you feel as if even the half marathon is too short‚ I was very impressed with the outcome of the race‚ having had a slow start‚ but we managed to run low 60s.

“At about 15km‚ there were a lot of young athletes. I was very impressed with how many of them have improved and it is a good sign for road running in the country‚" he said.

All the main contenders in the men's race went through the first 5km after a slow first kilometre (3:05).

Eight kilometres in‚ the pace picked up dramatically as Kenyan’s Bernard Bil and David Maru pressed with South Africa’s Gelant throwing in surge after surge.

Mokoka‚ Gelant‚ Mashele and Joel Mmone then attacked and dropped the Kenyan challenge in the final 4km.

"We broke away from about the 15km mark. Precious said we should go for it‚ he went in front with Elroy‚ then I went to help keep the pace.

"At about 17km‚ that’s where Elroy and I pulled away. But from 15kms‚ we were running 2:51/2.52‚ which helped us to make up the time [from the slower start]‚" Mokoka said.

"Somewhere around 19.5km‚ I decided to make one last move. I told myself‚ if it doesn't work‚ I will just wait for the right moment. But I'm happy that when I moved‚ my legs just carried me‚ I was able to keep the pace and take it in the end‚" he added.

Meanwhile Nare‚ who is just 18 years old‚ said the race was one of her best yet. It was also her first half marathon event.

"I am very happy with my race‚ it is great to take the win here.

"The first 10 kilometres were very fast‚ but after that some of the ladies started to drop off‚ then I knew I had to keep pushing‚" said Nare‚ through her coach and translator Belay Hagos.

"There were a few athletes who were trying to catch me‚ but I knew if I wanted the title‚ I would have to keep up my pace and focus on what I needed to do. I am happy with this result‚" a smiling Nare added.

Leading results

Men

1 Stephen Mokoka 1:00.56‚ 2 Elroy Gelant 1:01.00‚ 3 Precious Mashele 1:01.21‚ 4 Joel Mmone 1:01.30‚ 5 Mbuleli Mathanga 1:01.50‚ 6 Pheeha Mokgobu 1:01.55‚ 7 Khoarahlan Seutloali 1:02.02‚ 8 Collen Mulaudzi 1:02.12‚ 9 Milton Kekana 1:02.16‚ 10 Melikhaya Frans 1:02.20

Women

1 Tadu Nare 1:10.20‚ 2 Sarah Naibei 1:10.54 3 Glenrose Xaba 1:11.08‚ 4 Gerda Steyn 1:11.53‚ 5 Jenet Bhele 1:12.08‚ 6 Fortunate Chidzivo 1:12.46‚ 7 Neheng Khatala 1:13.14‚ 8 Lebo Phalula 1:15.33‚ 9 Alina Armas 1:16.54‚ 10 Lebogang Phalula-Luthuli 1:17.03

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