Finally a South African has been crowned Sanlam Cape Town Marathon champion, as 33 year old, soon-to-be-father from Johannesburg, Stephen Mokoka, outwitted and outran his East African rivals to race to a record-breaking victory yesterday, while Namibian, Helalia Johannes, made it a double for Southern Africa, becoming the first woman to beat the 2 hour 30 minute mark for the race.
Mokoka’s time of 2 hrs 08 min 31 sec improved Ethiopian Asefa Negewa’s 2016 race record by 10 seconds, while Johannes took 52 seconds off Kenyan Isabella Ochichi’s four-year-old record, winning in 2:29:28.
20 000 participants took part in a celebration of distance running in the Mother City over the weekend in the marathon, peace10km, 5km fun run and peace trail races over 12km and 22km.
Conditions were cool and mostly perfect for marathon running, but a moderate headwind between Woodstock and Rondebosch slowed the athletes, preventing a sub-2:08 or even 2:07 marathon, which will surely come to Cape Town in the near future.
“I normally go to Shanghai at this time of year,” said Mokoka, who has won the Chinese race on four occasions, recording his personal best time of 2:07:40. “But this year we decided to run at home. With Cape Town you don’t have to travel long distances and it’s great to get home crowd support. At every station people were cheering and shouting my name. It was great!
“With my training partner, Benedict Moeng, we had planned to do something special for our coach and Benedict ran the second fastest time of his career. We wanted more, but could not do it on the day. The course was perfect – it was just the headwind which cost us time. But it’s good to get the course record, I’m happy with the results.”
Mokoka, who is scheduled to become a father within the next days, destroyed the east African challenge with strong acceleration at 32 km, running a 2km split in 8:46. The lead pack of six quickly reduced to three, with only Kenyans Albert Korir and Philemon Kacherian in contention.
A further surge at a water station left the 24 year-old Korir as an also-ran and another shortly after had 61 minute half marathoner, Kacherian, gasping and unable to respond.
Mokoka maintained his pace back through the City Centre and over the bridge across Buitengracht Road to cross the line at the Green Point Track precinct 31 seconds clear of Korir. Kacherian was third a further 11 seconds back.
Mokoka also won the South African Marathon title to add to the national half marathon championship he won in July, with his training partner Moeng taking the silver, finishing 6th overall in 2:12:52.
Johannes became the first woman in 29 years – after Frith van der Merwe in 1989 – to run a marathon faster than 2 hrs 30 min in South Africa, and did it the hard way, having to do most of the front running.
Just five months after winning the Commonwealth Games marathon gold medal, Johannes can claim a second major road victory, in Africa’s sole IAAF gold label marathon. A soldier in the Namibian army, Johannes was promoted two ranks to Warrant Officer after the Commonwealth victory. “I’ve no idea whether there might be further promotion,” Johannes joked. “I love running in Cape Town and I’m delighted to have won today after just missing out last year.”
The strength of the women’s field was apparent with seven athletes still in contention at half-way. Johannes led the pack through in 1:16:30, closely followed by Ethiopians Urge Diro, Ayantu Abdi and Askale Adula, Tanzanian Failuna Matanga, Australian Ellie Pashley and Neheng Khatala of Lesotho.
Matanga and Diro kept at Johannes’ heels until they finally dropped behind as the Namibian gradually upped the pace from 35km. But with Matanga just five seconds back at 40km, the race was in the balance till the end.
Last year a flagging Johannes was overhauled by Ethiopian Betlehem Moges in the final kilometre, but the Namibian was determined that there would be no repetition yesterday, as she increased her speed, flying home to a thirty-two second victory over Matanga, with Diro third.
Lesiba Precious Mashele retained his title in the Peace 10km, winning ahead of former Capetonian, Jeromy Andreas, in 29:11, while just three months after giving birth, Irvette van Zyl took honours in the women’s race in an excellent 32:49 – the second-best of her career.