Stephen Mokoka, Nolene Conrad and Desmond Mokgobu at Thursday's Cape Town Marathon launch. Photo: @conrad_nolene via Twitter

CAPE TOWN – South Africa’s best marathoners will race the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon this spring, pitting themselves against formidable opposition from the rest of the continent and beyond with strong hope of podium success.

The announcement at yesterday’s 100-day launch in the city of Africa’s greatest marathon that the event would incorporate the South African Marathon Championship for the first time further cements the Cape Town Marathon position as the country and continent’s premier event.

And the confirmation yesterday by three of the country’s four IAAF Gold status athletes, Stephen Mokoka, Desmond Mokgobu and Nolene Conrad, that they will be aiming for podium positions on September 23 provides further evidence that the strongest ever South African challenge will be mounted at this year’s Cape Town Marathon.

All three have demonstrated that they have the talent, skill and determination to race with the best and all have identified the Cape Town Marathon as their primary athletics focus of the year.

Read: Sanlam Cape Town Marathon launch turns into triple celebration

Asked about his expectations for this year’s race, Johannesburg-based Mokgobu stated simply: “I’m going to win.”

Trained by South African distance running great Hendrick Ramaala, Mokgobu has unfinished business in Cape Town and will be taking extra care with his pre-race nutrition.

Designated as one of two elite pace-makers for last year’s race, Mokgobu managed just 6km before a stomach complaint forced him from the race.

But in February this year the 29-year-old Mokgobu came of age with a last-gasp win over local favourite Hayato Sonoda in Japan’s Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in his best ever time of 2hr 09min 31sec.

Just three months earlier, Mokoka became the first athlete to have won the Shanghai Marathon on four occasions, pulling away from Kenya’s Ernest Kiprono Ngeno in the last kilometre to win in 2:08.35 - six seconds inside Asefa Negewo’s 2016 Cape Town Marathon record and 55 seconds outside his best time, set in Shanghai in 2015.

Mokoka’s 2:07.40 marathon PB and his 27:38 10km national best time give him confidence for his September date.

“If the weather plays along and the pace-makers do their job well, the record will go,” said Mokoka.

“It is a privilege to run a top international event on our home soil without having to worry about jet leg, foreign food and other challenges we face running overseas.

“Shanghai is a great marathon, so well organised and welcoming, but Cape Town is special. I love running here. Winning against top Africans will be tough but I’m convinced a South African can win. If God has created a special day for me, it is my day and you will never beat me!”

Read: The long road to gold for Cape Town Nolene Conrad

Conrad might be the smallest athlete in the field for this year’s Cape Town Marathon but will undoubtedly be one of the toughest and fastest.

“I have worked on this event for the past two years as part of the organising team,” she said. “I said last year that my aim is to run this year as an IAAF Gold status athlete and it’s incredible to have achieved this through my top 25 place at the World Half Marathon Championship in Spain earlier this year.

“Being a proud Capetonian and South African it is important to deliver great performances in Cape Town. I’ll have my family, friends and supporters cheering me on, so I will certainly be going for a podium position.”

Stephen Granger

Cape Times

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