The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon will have a new winner this year as defending champion Asefa Negewo will not be on the start line on Sunday.
Despite his absence, the 2018 line up is arguably the deepest entry field to date.
The elite field was presented today, and spearheading it is none other than South Africa’s 10km record holder and most consistent marathoner of the last few years, Stephen Mokoka.
His 2:07.40 from Shanghai from 2015 is the fastest in the field. Since then he has gone 2:10.18 (Shanghai, 2016), 2:16.53 (Tokyo, February 2017) and 2:08.35 in Shanghai, in November 2017.
Earlier this year, Mokoka competed at the Commonwealth Games in the 10 000m and ran his second-best time (27:44.58) ever, showing that his speed has lost none of its sting since focusing more on the marathon.
In fact, Mokoka is renowned for a viciously fast finish and should the race come down to two or more athletes in the last kilometre, he will fancy his chances of winning a sprint to the line.
But Mokoka will need to keep a wary eye on the opposition, as there are no less than three men in the field who have gone better than 2:09 in their careers, and a further three athletes who have dipped the 2:10 mark.
On paper, Jacob Chesari Korir has to be the biggest threat to Mokoka with his 2:07.47 run in Frankfurt in 2013.
His more recent form has seen Korir clock 2:09.24 in Barcelona in 2017, but Korir had to settle for 6th in the Riga Marathon in May this year, crossing the line in 2:15.51.
Kenya’s Albert Korir will be extremely confident after finishing second this year in the Otsu Lake Biwa Marathon, clocking his personal best marathon time of 2:08.17.
Korir knows what it takes to win a marathon, having claimed the 2017 Vienna Marathon win, also in a sub 2:09 time (he won in 2:08.40).
Then there is Kipsang Kipkemoi, who boasts a best of 2:08.26 from the Sevilla Marathon in 2017. This year, he clocked 2:09.59 in Sevilla.
Mokoka will know Edwin Kimaiyo very well, as the two met in Shanghai in 2017. Mokoka won Shanghai last year ahead of Kimaiyo who had to settle for 4th in a lifetime best of 2:09.12.
Ethiopia’s Fikre Assefa boasts a best of 2:08.36 run in the 2017 Kosice Marathon where he finished second, and Spain’s Ayad Lamdassen comes in with 2:09.28.
But it is not only the foreign contingent that Mokoka needs to keep an eye on.
Desmond Mokgobu, 29, has been improving all the time under the watchful eye of 2004 New York Marathon winner Hendrick Ramaala.
And under his guidance, Mokgobu reached a career best of 2:09.31, run in winning this year’s Beppu Marathon in February, earning him gold label status.
His constant improvement and big win in February will have given Mokgobu a huge dose of confidence, and he will feel he does not need to fear any athlete on the day.
Namibia’s Helalia Johannes, who did pacing duties and went on to finish second in the 2017 race, is back again – this time as the pre-race favourite.
With a career best of 2:26.09 run at the London Olympics in 2012, Johannes has broken 2:30 on four occasions and knowing the route after last year’s pacing duties, must hold an edge over the rest of the field.
Johannes is also renowned as a tough racer, claiming the 2018 Commonwealth Games Marathon title in 2:32.40 – run in almost brutal conditions.
That said, a marathon is a race that is unforgiving, and any mistake will be severely punished.
Just waiting in the wings for any such mistake are the likes of Ethiopia’s Askale Alemayechu Adula who boasts a best marathon time of 2:29.01 (Shanghai 2016) and Ayantu Gemechu Abdi (3rd Rennes Marathon 2017 – 2:30.38).
Included in the mix is Australia’s seasoned campaigner Ellie Pashley with a marathon best of 2:35.55, and Tanzania’s Failuna Matanga, who ran 2:34.12 in Amsterdam in 2017.
South Africa will be represented by Gold Label athlete Nolene Conrad, who ran her best of 2:35.21 in Valencia in 2017.
Valencia is a happy hunting ground for Conrad, having set her best half marathon time of 71:44 there in the World Half Marathon Championships in March this year to earn her gold label status.
“In 2017 we achieved Gold Label status as a race, and this year we have two South African athletes in the men’s race with Gold Label status, and Nolene in the women’s race, also with Gold Label status,” said Elana van Zyl-Meyer, ambassador for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.
“This is another big coup for the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon as it shows that the race is becoming more and more attractive to the world’s best.
“It would be absolutely incredible if either Stephen Mokoka or Desmond Mokgobu were to win the men’s race.
“And if Nolene (Conrad) triumphs in the women’s race, that would have huge significance.”
The Sanlam Cape Town Marathon will up to 2020 also double as the SA Marathon Championships, and serve as an Olympic qualifier this year.