Johannesburg – Distance runner Elroy Gelant hopes to start his 2013 campaign on the front foot when the South African domestic athletics season kicks off with the SA Cross Country Trials in Boksburg on Saturday.

Gelant won the trials last year, in Potchefstroom, and he said on Friday he hoped to shine again in the toughest of athletics disciplines.

With a possible place in the SA squad on the line for the Southern Region Cross Country Championships in Lesotho in March – where the team will be selected for the biennial World Cross Country Championships in Bysgoszcz, Poland – Gelant had yet to decide whether he would compete globally in cross country this season.

“This year I want to focus on the track more and try to qualify for the World Athletics Championships,” he said.

“I want to use the cross country season as a stepping stone for my plans later in the year.

“The SA Athletics Championships are two weeks after the World Cross Country Championships, and it would be nice to compete against the best in the world in cross country, but I need to sit down with my coach and decide whether I will go if I'm selected.”

His ambitions on the track this season are lofty, with the International Association of Athletics Federations introducing tougher qualifying standards in the men's 5 000 metres event.

For Gelant to book his place at the global track and field showpiece in Moscow, Russia, in August, he will virtually need to break Shadrack Hoff's 18-year-old national record of 13 minutes, 14.16 seconds (13:14.16)

“My main goal this season is to qualify for the 5 000m at the world championships, but they have dropped the qualifying standard from 13:20 to 13:15,” he said.

“The qualifying standard is just off Shadrack Hoff's national record, so I will be hoping to break that record as well.”

Gelant faces a strong field on Saturday, which includes the likes of Stephen Mokoka, Gladwin Mzazi, Sibusiso Nzima and Joel Mmone.

Athletics South Africa (ASA) had not yet decided how many athletes in each category would be selected for the SA team to compete in the Southern Region Championships, according to ASA president James Evans, but Gelant's only goal was to book his place in the squad.

“I want to find out today how many people are selected so I know tomorrow where I need to finish, but making the team is my main goal. Winning the race would be a bonus.”

Meanwhile, Lebo Phalula returns to defend her women's crown at the trials, but she was also left confused by ASA's late confirmation on the size of the national squad to be selected.

“I don’t know how many athletes they are picking for the team, so my aim is to finish in the top three,” Phalula said.

Rene Kalmer will be a notable absentee, as she recovers from an Achilles injury, and Phalula's twin sister, Lebogang, was also missing from the provisional start lists.

Phalula, however, will not have it all her own way in a field which includes Mpho Mabuza, who was second at last year's trials, and national steeplechase record holder Tebogo Masehla.

Aside from the senior men's 12km race and the senior women's 8km event, there will also be trial races for junior men (8km) and junior women (6km). – Sapa