JOHANNESBURG – Desmond Mokgobu jokes that he was afraid the Japanese “wouldn’t let me out”.
In Oita on Sunday, Mokgobu out-sprinted local favourite Hayato Sonodo to win the Beppu-Oita Marathon.
“I was scared they would kill me for beating their man,” Mokgobu laughs as he relives the day of his greatest triumph. They really supported him and they were disappointed that I beat him. But they still cheered for me because they saw how hard I worked.”
Former South African marathon champion Mokgobu won the race in a personal best two hours, nine minutes and 31 seconds, three seconds ahead of Sonodo.
“It was very cold in the week building up to the race. It snowed on the day and when the race started there was a big wind that came against us.”
However, the pacesetters helped make the race manageable.
“They controlled the pace very well. I tried to break away at about 29km but they said to me, 'let’s take it easy because we’re still on course'. But then he (Sonodo) broke and for some reason I realised it late.”
It took Mokgobu a while to catch Sonodo and once he did, a cat-and-mouse battle ensued.
“At about 36km I tried to take the lead but... he had great support on the road and his knowledge of the course made it very hard for me to leave him for dead.”
So the man who runs under the tutelage of the great Hendrik Ramaala decided to bide his time and study his opponent.
“With the wind still against us I knew I had to be tactful, but even when he dropped pace, I could not overtake him. He was very strong and I felt that as we ran shoulder to shoulder in the 40th kilometre.”
Having worked hard on his speed in the build-up to the race, Mokgobu resorted to beating his man at the finish.
“Before I left for Japan, I’d done a lot of track work and the last session I had was a 10 000m solo run. I finished the last 400 metres very fast and that gave me the confidence that should the race be a tight finish, I will be in with a chance.”
And so it was, Mokgobu and Sonodo entering the stadium together with the title up for grabs.
“I got on to the track before him and I knew that I would beat him in the sprint. But with his crowd cheering him on he still gave me a good fight. In the end I beat him and I was very happy that I did so in a new PB.”
An excited Ramaala expressed delight at seeing their hard work pay off.
“We didn’t rest in December. We trained throughout and only took Christmas Day off. So when Desmond left for Japan, we knew he was fit enough to win. That was the goal. The time was always going to be a bonus and we’re very happy that he set his new PB.”
Mokgobu, having become the first South African to win an IAAF Silver Label race since Gert Thys in 2006, believes he can still run faster and intends working on his speed.
“I now need to go back to the track and regain speed. I need to fix my half-marathon time (a best of 62:02) so that I can be able to finish marathons in 2:08, 2:05.”
Lofty goals indeed, but ones that Mokgobu can easily achieve as evidenced by his win in Japan at the weekend.