CAPE TOWN - Two pacemakers from last year’s Cape Town Marathon return to the start line for next Sunday’s 42km dash through the city, but this time with their sights firmly set on the podium, rather than floating the boat for their fellow passengers.
Johannesburg-based Desmond Mokgobu and Namibian Helalia Johannes experienced radically different outcomes to their pacing endeavours 12 months ago, but this time the competition for podium places will be real for both athletes.
The Hendrick Ramaala-coached Mokgobu suffered food poisoning on the eve of the marathon last year and was forced to quit after just six kilometres, while Johannes came within a hair’s breadth of a dramatic victory, only being overhauled by eventual winner, Betelhem Moges of Ethiopia, in the final kilometre, and losing by just six seconds.
Both are tipped for race honours. Commonwealth marathon gold-medallist, Johannes, is a strong favourite for line honours in the women’s race while Mokgobu is a top five contender in the powerful men’s field.
Johannes ran the race of her life earlier this year when she raced to victory in the Commonwealth Games Marathon in Gold Coast Australia, clocking 2hrs 32min 40sec in humid conditions, her achievement earning the former corporal in the Namibian Defence Force a two-rank promotion to Warrant Officer on her return.
Persistence has been Johannes’ strong suit, as the 38-year old from the Oshana region in the north of Nambia appears to have improved with age. A frequent visitor to Cape Town at Easter in the early 2000s, she began her Two Oceans Half Marathon career with a modest 1:26:43 for 17th position in 2004, followed by a “DNF” the following year.
Not daunted, she hit back in 2006 with an emphatic victory in 1:13:35, before taking line honours on three subsequent occasions, her best coming in her final outing in 2012, setting a course record of 1:11:57.
Commonwealth Games marathon gold medalist Helalia Johannes has been promoted to the rank of warrant officer class two (WO2) in the Namibian Defence Force with effect from today (19 April). She was previously a corporal in the NDF and has now jumped two ranks. pic.twitter.com/lg93clSUDI
Johannes has been a fixture in the Namibian team for the past decade, having raced the Olympic Marathons in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, where she placed an excellent 12th in the latter with a Namibian record of 2:26:09, before stepping up to take gold at the Commonwealth Games.
Prior to pacing the field in last year’s marathon, Johannes raced to victory in the Cape Town Peace Run 10km in 2016 in a course record and her best time of 32:44 and will go into next week’s marathon with a “happy hunting ground” mentality which could spur her on to victory.
The 29-year old Mokgobu has the honour of being one of just four athletes in South Africa boasting IAAF gold status, having earned this distinction courtesy of a superb victory in one of Japan’s oldest marathons, the IAAF Silver-Label Beppu-Oita Marathon.
I'm honoured & privileged to be part of Sanlam Cape town marathon pic.twitter.com/TqoT5m9h8x
Mokgobu won with a personal best of 2:09:31 - a significant improvement on his previous best efforts, set in 2016, of 2:10:51 at the Rotterdam Marathon and 2:11:23 in placing fifth at the Cape Town Marathon.
Mokgobu has represented SA on several occasions in cross country and road running, which included a creditable 21st in the marathon at the world championships in London last year, and boasts an impressive half marathon time of 1:02:29, set in Port Elizabeth in 2012, making him one of the fastest athletes in the field.