SA medal hopefuls Mokoka and Gelant finalising prep

South African Olympic medal hopeful, Elroy Gelant, in action. Picture: Supplied

South African Olympic medal hopeful, Elroy Gelant, in action. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 28, 2024


The realists will tell you that the likelihood of a runner emulating Josiah Thugwane by winning the marathon at the Paris Olympic Games is slim to none – and slim has just left town.

And with good reason, too, for such is the high standard of marathon runners across the globe that our best athletes in the 42.195km event lag pretty far behind.

The Olympic marathon though is a different beast; it’s nothing like the world’s major marathons that are all about speed. At the Games, the race is highly tactical and is often won by the man who plays his cards right, as Thugwane did back in Atlanta in 1996.

South Africa is sending two classy marathoners to Paris – Stephen Mokoka and Elroy Gelant – both of whom have previously run at the Games and will be looking to do better than their 49th and 34th finishes respectively.

Mokoka completed the race in London, in 2012, but did not finish in Tokyo where debutant Gelant was the best-performing South African with his 2:16:43 in the heat and humidity of Sapporo three years ago.

The two are in great shape, and next weekend they’ll run their final race before the Games when they compete in the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10K.

Currently South African champion in both the half and full marathons, Gelant has had brilliant runs in the five-race series this year already – the Boxer Atheltic Club star finished second behind Kenya’s Vincent Langat in both Gqeberha and Cape Town.

He ran his maiden sub-28 minute 10km in Gqeberha and has singled out the series as an important step on his Olympic journey because it has helped to improve the standard of road running in South Africa.

“I’m looking forward to the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10K. I understand the expectations at the event and am prepared for the challenge,” the 37-year-old Gelant said, adding that he is enjoying running with the younger generation who push him into digging deeper and running his best.

“The current generation of athletes is phenomenal. I think last year in Gqeberha was a good eye-opener to show that we can dip under 28 minutes,” he said, in reference to his clubmate, Precious Mashele, setting the national record at 27:35.

“And I think that there’s going to be one or two more that will be motivated by these performances to run that sub-28. This is good because, ultimately, that will improve our performances as long-distance athletes in South Africa.”

One man who has no doubt set the standard for the rest of the local athletes to follow is the legend that is Mokoka. A consistent performer over a very long period in varying distances, the Hollywood Athletics Cub man ran a fantastic 2:06:42 to book his place at the Olympics for his third marathon appearance. He has been hard in training for Paris and will be finalising his preparations at next Sunday’s race.

“The Durban 10K is going to be a fitness check-up for me to see how my preparation has been going,” Mokoka explained. “It will be my final race before the Olympics, so it’s part of the plan to make sure that I will be at my best. The Absa RUN YOUR CITY Series has the best 10km races in the country.

“It’s always exciting because of the quality of the field and the incentives that are there to motivate us to try and run faster. Sub 28 will be good, but I’ll take anything under 29 because, at the end of the day, I must save up some energy for the Olympics.”

And how grand it would be were that saved energy to see him emulate Thugwane and bring back Olympic gold from Paris.

It might sound unrealistic, but such is the fickle nature of sport – particularly the Olympic marathon – and to top that, anything is possible.