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Thugwane tips Mokoka to bring home marathon medal

Speed and experience listed as veteran's greatest assets

Stephen Mokoka of South Africa.
Stephen Mokoka of South Africa.
Image: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

SA marathon legend Josia Thugwane has thrown his weight behind Team SA at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, expressing hope in the marathoners to produce a medal finish. 

The marathon squad left for Tokyo yesterday and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics hero wished Stephen Mokoka, Desmond Mokgobu and Elroy Gelant (men's team) and Irvette van Zyl and Gerda Steyn (women) success.

Thugwane added that he was hurting that no-one has come close to a podium finish since his historic triumph in the Olympic marathon  25 years ago.

“It is different these days; we were part of the Olympic ceremony in 1996. I am surprised that they only [leave now]. We were there a couple of days before the Olympics, and we were already training by the time the opening ceremony took place. But I am confident that we have a quality team going to Tokyo," Thugwane told Sowetan yesterday.

He said they were showed the marathon route on a bus ride a week before the start of the Atlanta Olympics, and that helped him get an idea of what he needed to do on the day of the marathon. He hoped a similar opportunity would be afforded the marathoners in Tokyo.

He tipped Mokoka, 36, for a podium finish. He received a wild card entry for the SA marathon team after finishing fifth in the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, in 2019. Mahikeng-born Mokoka, who ran in the marathon in the 2012 London Games, has a personal best of 2:07:40.

“Mokoka can do it. He has competed in the 10km, 21km and marathon races all over the world. He is experienced and can do it. He is our best bet. Mokoka is the star of the show. The marathon is all about speed, and he will need to work on his endurance. I think it will be tough for Irvette and Gerda. It will not be easy for them, as the race requires too much energy. They have a good coach in [Hendrick] Ramaala. He has been in the Olympics a few times." 

Thugwane, now enjoying his retirement in Mpumalanga, is an Olympic ambassador of tyre giants Bridgestone, with past Olympic champion Caster Semenya and rowing star Matthew Brittain. 

The men's marathon will be run on Sunday August 8 in the city of Sapporo. Van Zyl and Steyn will be in action a day earlier.

Meanwhile, the track and field events start tomorrow.

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