Cape Town – Together, these guys weigh about 80 kilograms. The Master of Ceremonies was only joking when he welcomed the elite athletes to the seats up front at yesterday’s Sanlam Cape Town Marathon pre-race press conference.
But none of the eight men took offence, their wry smiles somewhat retorting “remember dynamite comes in small packages”.
And they are prepared to explode alright, all of them promising to deliver a massive run in tomorrow morning’s 42.2km race around the Mother City.
Locals Stephen Mokoka and Desmond Mokgobu made no bones about their intention to bring an end to the east Africans’ domination of the race.
Never since its re-launch back in 2014 has the Cape Town men’s race been won by a South African. That though, if Mokoka and Mokgobu live up to their promises, is about to change. The locals spoke as though they were going into a team race, their plan clearly being to feed off each other to overcome the foreign opposition.
“I believe that if we (South Africans) work together, we can win it,” said race favourite Mokoka.
“I am very excited that for once I will not have to deal with issues of jet-lag or have my family find out about my results hours after I’d finished. I am glad that I will have the likes of Desmond to run with because he can encourage me when I am struggling.”
Mokgobu is similarly excited to have ‘big brother’ Stephen around: “We will work as a team and Mokoka’s experience will help us run a good time.”
That good time, Mokoka believes, could be a new course record in Africa’s only IAAF Gold Label Status Marathon.
“I believe the course record can go,” he said of two-time champion Asefe Negawo’s 2:08:41 mark set two years ago. “We have a very strong field and if all our management teams agree on us going for the record and we get good pacing, it will happen.”
While Mokoka has already dipped below the record - his PB is 2:07:40 - Mokgobu would be breaking new ground if he was to beat Negawo’s time.
The Beppu-Oita Marathon winner boasts a 2:09:31 PB and will be pleased to better that.
“I think I am due a top three finish,” said the athlete who has a position 7 and 5 at the Mother City event. “And I believe I can get that if I run my PB. Now that the defending champion is not here, the east Africans are under pressure. We are all on the same level now and for us Mokoka’s presence gives us even more confidence because he’s the fastest man in this race.”
If the Ethiopians and Kenyans are under any pressure, they did a great job of hiding it yesterday.
As they sat up front, none of Kenyans Albert Korir (2:08:17), Kipsang Kipkemoi (2:08:26) and Ethiopia’s Fikre Assefa (2:08:36) displayed any nerves.
Instead they were relaxed, pretty excited to be in this beautiful city and looking forward to display their talent in the continent’s most elite marathon.
“Eliud’s (Kipchoge) speed was very fast,” Korir chuckled when asked what he made of his compatriot’s world record run in Berlin on Sunday “I’m just here to try and do well, to improve my time. The course is not so tough, but I don’t know about the weather.”
For Kipkemoi, the big delight is being in South Africa.
“I believe I will run my best, a sub 2:09. Of course we (Kenyans) always run as a team. Teamwork always brings results. You can’t do it alone. Yes it is good when Kenyans win, but it is even better when the winner is me.”
In the women’s race, SA’s hopes will rest on the tiny shoulders of Capetonian Nolene Conrad. And she is up for it.
“This is only my fifth marathon and three of those have been outside South Africa. So it is great to be here, it will be nice to see familiar faces cheering me on. I am out to finish on the podium and if I get a PB I will be even more happy.”