Johannesburg - Tumelo Motlagale has tasted the world athletics stage and found it to be good, so good that he wants seconds.
A South African marathon champion last year after winning the national championships at the Durban International Marathon, the man from Ikagelelng township near Zeerust in the North West is eager to retain his title on Sunday so he can go mix it up with the big boys once again.
The stakes are a little higher now though than they were in 2022, with Motlagale needing to slash a good three minutes off his “winning time” from last year to qualify for the world championships in Budapest in August.
“Being South African champion was a fantastic achievement for me because I got to go to Oregon for the world championships,” Motlagale reflected on his victorious 2hr 11min 15sec time that earned him the title of South African champion.
While he was the first South African to cross the line, Motlagale had finished second overall in the race behind Zimbabwean Isaac Mpofu who was later disqualified for failing to wear a licence.
His maiden world championship race did not go according to plan, Motlagale having struggled with plantar fasciitis prior to the race and ended up finishing 62nd in a pedestrian time of 2:20.
“To be honest, that experience was life changing for me. I got to run with the best in the world and even though my race did not go as planned, it was amazing to be there. I got to be a part of a big international event and that has given me a lot of confidence as an athlete. Now that’s the stage I want to play on.”
To play with the big boys again, Motlagale has to not only win the national championship but do so with a personal best marathon time of 2:08:10 to book his ticket to Budapest.
“The preparations have been going well so far and I am looking forward to the challenge of defending my national title. The good thing is that I know all the guys who will be out there trying to dethrone me. I’ve raced against all of them, Gladwin (Mzazi), Reagan (Magwai), (Sboniso) Sikhakhane and Philani (Buthelezi).
Mzazi is eager to become national champion, but he is not looking to qualify for the world championships.
“I am not thinking about Budapest. For me, the goal is to try and book a place in the team for next year’s Olympics in Paris. So while it would be great to be national marathon champion, I am seeing the weekend race as a chance for me to test myself and see how ready I am to go for an Olympic qualifier – maybe later in the year or early next year,” Mzazi said.
While the South African focus will be on the race for national marathon glory, the open race for the Durban International Marathon title could be a thrilling affair with a good number of top international athletes set to toe the line.
KwaZulu-Natal Athletics president Steve Mkasi has said that they have invited some top athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia who boast PBs of under the 2:08:10 mark that will earn those who dip under it a cool $10 000 (about R182 000).
So be on the lookout for the likes of Alemayehu Mekonnen Lema of Ethiopia, as well as Samuel Naibei and Cornelius Kipchumba Yego of Kenya, plus Lesotho’s Tebello Ramakongoana in the men’s race. The women’s contest promises to be a thrilling affair with no less than five international athletes confirmed.
SA’s Annie Bothma is the favourite for the national title and possibly overall victory although she will need to be at her best to overcome the east African onslaught that will include Kenyans Sheila Chepkoech, Shelmith Nyawira Muriuki and Rebeccah Cherop with the Ethiopian charge made up of Chaitu Bedo Negashu, Beji Bekelu Geletu and Bezawit Birhanu Dekeso.
The weather in Durban has been wet all week and there is a 61% chance of rain forecast during the race.
“There’s nothing we can do with the weather, but I hope it does not rain so we can have a fast race,” Motlagale said, no doubt hoping for the perfect cool conditions to hold on to his title.