Stephen Mokoka is one of South Africa's best runners. Photo: BackpagePix
Stephen Mokoka deserves a little more love and adoration than what he is currently enjoying from South Africa.

But then again, ours is a country more obsessed with ultra-running and therefore Mokoka’s feats in the shorter road races and middle distances on the track have generally gone uncelebrated. It is perhaps this lack of recognition for the superstar he is that the tiny athlete has taken to generally running overseas.

In Asia, for example, he is adored so much that he is an ever-present at the Shanghai Marathon with organisers aware of his star quality and always inviting him.

Mokoka only got back to racing 42.2km locally last year when the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon invited him. That IAAF Gold Label status race also doubled as the SA Marathon Championships, meaning the local athletes were also racing for places in the national team.

He sprinted to victory in 2hr 08min 31sec and in the process smashed the course record with such a consummate effort he could probably have gone for another run with new competition and still blown them out the water.

That victory means he will be leading South Africa’s charge for gold at the World Championships in Doha in September-October and while the competition is sure to be much stiffer at the global event, bet on the 34-year-old to truly represent.

He has always left it all on the track or the road when he has performed for his country, the man from Mahikeng having won four medals - gold, two silvers and a bronze - at the Universiade while he also represented SA at the Olympics.

This, after all, is a man who has won national colours in track, cross country and road events. He is now more of a road specialist and even in what many would see as the twilight of his career given he started running a while ago - Mokoka continues to leave runners way younger than him eating his dust.

He was at it again yesterday when he retained his ASA 21.1km championships title in Port Elizabeth with yet another run that illustrated just what a star he is. Like he did last year, he out-raced a stellar line-up that included some of the country’s top runners - like ex-Olympian Desmond Mokgobu as well as Elroy Gelant and Precious Mashele.

Mokoka overcame the typically windy conditions of the Eastern Cape city to get home in a great time of 60:56, some 48 seconds faster than he did in 2018. And this time around the gap on his adversaries was also a bit bigger - Gelant coming in as a runner-up four seconds later.

The PE run was no doubt part of his preparations for the defence of his Cape Town Marathon title in September. Mokoka is a true star who has performed excellently at the highest level and is the kind of athlete the country should be putting on a pedestal as inspiration for many young athletes.

The path he has taken to being the top marathon runner he is, is the one that has served countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia very well. Start young on the track and add cross country in the mix before going onto the road. Yet because ultra races such as Two Oceans and Comrades are elevated into the be-all and end-all, there is undue pressure on runners to do them even when they are not ready.

Come on South Africa, you have Mokoka as a great example of the way an athlete should develop. Use him, celebrate him and watch many youngsters go and follow in his footsteps.


Sunday Independent

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