Reigning Cape Town Marathon champion, Asefa Negewu, will return to defend his title this year. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN - An impressive line-up of “golden” athletes, the commitment of ASA to host the national championships in Cape Town and a revival of the Captain’s Challenge were features of the 50-day launch of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon at a city hotel on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding its many other selling points, elite athletes running fast marathon times in Cape Town was the primary reason for the Cape Town Marathon receiving IAAF gold label status within just three years and the participation of IAAF gold-status athletes each year are an essential part of the retention of this status.

South Africa’s leading marathoner, Stephen Mokoka, who won the national half marathon championships in Port Elizabeth last weekend, has his sights set on victory in September but faces a formidable challenge from East-African competitors.

While Mokoka remains the fastest in the field, boasting a marathon best of 2:07:40, he will be up against a number of talented young African runners bent on following in the footsteps of twice champion, Ethiopian Asefa Negewo, who placed 7th in the London Marathon after winning Cape Town in 2016.

Twenty four-year old Kenyan, Albert Korir has run faster than 2 hours 9 minutes in his last three marathons, winning in Vienna last year and running his personal best of 2:08:17 in placing second to fellow-Kenyan, Macharia Ndirangu, at the high profile Lake Biwa Marathon in Japan four months ago. He will likely target Negewo’s course record of 2:08:41 and to a personal best on his own continent.

Another Kenyan, Kipsang Kipkemoi, started his marathon career winning the Kilimanjaro Marathon and has made good progress, with a best time just nine seconds slower than Korir’s following his 2:08:26 for third place in the Seville Marathon in Spain last year.

The fourth sub-2:09 marathon time in the highest quality field ever to race in Cape Town is owned by Ethiopian Fikre Assefa Robi, who improved his best time by more than a minute in finishing second in the Kosice Peace Marathon in Slovakia last year and would love to repeat the improvement in Cape Town, while 21 year-old Ugandan, Robert Chemonges brings a 2:10:32 victory in Dusseldorf, Germany to the starting line in Cape Town in September.

The heartbreak story of last year’s race was the failure of the designated pacemaker, Helalia Johannes from Namibia, to hold on for victory. Signed up to take the pace through 32km, Johannes opted to continue and was only overtaken by Ethiopian Betelhem Moges less than a kilometer from the finish, clocking an excellent 2:30:25 for second place. Johannes returns to Cape Town as the Commonwealth Games marathon champion and as part of the elite field and will start favourite to win and become the first women to better the 2 hrs 30 min mark in Cape Town.

Ethiopian Askale Adula is the second sub-2:30 athlete in the field, with a personal best of 2:29:01 set in Shangai in China, but will be pushed for a podium position by two Cape Town-based athletes in British athlete, Tish Jones, who won in 2016, and Blue Downs-born Nolene Conrad, who achieved IAAF gold status with her top 25 position at the world half marathon championships in Spain earlier this year.

The quality of the Cape Town Marathon could no longer be ignored by South Africa’s athletics’ bosses, and ASA yesterday announced their decision to link the national marathon championships to Cape Town.  “We are pleased to confirm that the Cape Town Marathon will host the national championship for the next three years,” ASA Road Running head, James Moloi said.

“We are proud that the championships will now be part of Africa’s leading marathon, ensuring that the country’s leading athletes will take part. And we will be using this year’s marathon as our first selection race for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.”

Cape Town Marathon ambassador, Francois Pienaar, initiated the “Captain’s Challenge” last year, inviting captains of sport and industry to join him in running the Cape Town Marathon. Top names signing up for the Challenge this year include Joel Stransky, Chester Williams, Zanela Mdodana, Elana Africa, JP Duminy, Nolene Strauss and Hennie le Roux.

City of Cape Town’s chairperson of the Safety and Social Services portfolio committee, Cllr Mzwakhe Nqavashe, emphasized the importance of the event to the City as one of its “Big Five” events. “Last year Francois and Elana led a Captain’s Challenge training run in the False Bay Nature Reserve,” Cllr Nqavashe recalled. “We are looking to Sanlam and the Captain’s Challenge team to return for a second training run to collaborate with us in an important community-based project.”

Cape Times

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