Morris Gachaga and Jackline Chepngeno made it a Kenyan double, taking line honours at the FNB CT 12 ONERUN in dramatic fashion on Sunday.
Almost 13 000 runners of all shapes and sizes finished the traditional harbourside 12km dash from Milnerton into the city centre in perfect running conditions, the colourful mass transforming the usual silent Sunday city centre into a bustling party-town.
With the world’s best sub-marathon athletes beating a path to the start line of the Mother City’s great race, the depth of quality in the field was unprecedented, making for a thrilling finish through the streets of the city.
Ten athletes, including the South African pair of Stephen Mokoka and Joel Mmone, were still in contention as the leaders raced on to the Heerengracht 3km from home.
That was before last year’s winner and world record holder, Gachaga, unleashed a fearsome finishing burst down Bree Street to claim the title in 33 min 42 sec - 15 seconds outside his world best time last year.
“I love Cape Town – I’m going race here often,” 23-year-old Gachaga admitted. “The city is great, everything seems to work perfectly, and the racing is top class. I knew it would be tough today with the line-up of stars, so very pleased to have retained my title!”
A measure of the depth of talent on display was that no fewer than five athletes bettered the 34 minute barrier for the first time ever and just 24 seconds separating the top eight, with the “foreign legion” proving too much for South Africa’s best on the day.
“I just ran out of legs,” South Africa’s first athlete home and 2016 winner, Stephen Mokoka, admitted after placing 9th, 35 seconds off the pace.
“This was my first road race of the year, and I think I was just off my peak form today. I was with the leaders with three to go and then suddenly I had nothing left.”
Ironically, the class of the field mitigated against a world best time.
With too much at stake for the title and ten athletes capable of taking it, Gachaga admitted that it was always going to be a tactical race.
“I knew I could outkick the guys at the finish, so made sure that I was in contact. I did not want to risk pushing for a time then losing the race.”
Just five seconds separated the top three at the finish, with Kenyan compatriots Victor Chumo and John Langat filling the minor places in the dash for the tape.
Earlier South Africa’s Joel Mmone blitzed through the first kilometre in 2:38, enjoying a lead which proved short-lived with the 20-strong lead pack reigning him in during the second kilometre.
The pack had trimmed to 12 at the 5km mark, reached in 14:02, with South Africans Mokaka, Mmone, Thabang Mosiako and Gladwin Mzazi still in contention.
Gachaga was dictating the pace up front, looking in complete control as nine of Africa’s finest flashed past Cape Town station in Adderley Street before entering the Company Gardens - Mokoka the sole South African amongst the East African contingent.
A Gachaga surge split the pack with only Chumo, Langat and Ugandan Abdallah Mande staying in touch, before a final surge from the world record holder decided the destiny of the R30 000 first prize in the final 200 metres.
Twenty-one-year-old Ugandan, Stella Chesang, was widely tipped for the women’s title following her impressive victory in the 10 000m in the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, but she met her match in Jackline Chepngeno, running in her first competitive race since giving birth to her first child 12 months ago.
The two were in a class of their own, breaking clear from the start, matching each other stride for stride until the strength and mental tenacity of Chepngeno decided the race.
The Kenyan broke clear on the slight climb through the gardens and held on down the fast Bree Street finish to win by 16 seconds, joining her husband John Langat, third overall, in the podium celebrations.
Chepngeno’s was the second fastest CT ONERUN winning time after her compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot’s 38:22 win in 2015.
South African Kesa Molotsane began conservatively before moving through the field in the second half to claim third in an impressive 39:53, just three seconds slower than her KPMG teammate Tish Jones’ winning time last year.