Can SA trio surprise in Olympic marathon?
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JOHANNESBURG - Stephen Mokoka may be the obvious best bet for an impressive South African showing in the men’s marathon coming up this weekend at the Tokyo Olympics. That though is not to say the other two men in Team SA are slouches.
Far from it, for Desmond Mokgobu - in particular – should toe up at the start of the race in Sapporo on Sunday oozing confidence following his previous marathon experience in Japan.
Mokgobu has previously won a 42.2km race in Japan and he will no doubt put that experience to good effect as he looks to make up for the disappointment of the 2019 world championships in Doha. Back in 2018, Mokgobu stunned the local crowd when he outran home favourite Hayato Sonoda to win the Bappu Oita Marathon.
Team coach Hendrick Ramaala, who is also Mokgobu’s personal coach, believes that his athlete stands a good chance of making a brilliant debut thanks to his slight knowledge of the conditions in Japan.
Mokgobu, however, failed to cope in the heat and humidity of Doha two years ago and pulled out of the race, thus ruining his previously good record at the world championships where he had finished 41st and 21st respectively in China 2015 and London 2017.
He would want to make amends for that on the biggest stage of them all come Sunday.
Apart from Mokgobu and Mokoka, the SA marathon team also has Elroy Gelant. The irony won’t be lost on local road running enthusiasts that the SA champion going into the race is the least experienced of the trio who will be carrying the country’s flag.
Gelant may currently carry that lofty billing of being national champion, but he is a baby in the 42.2km distance when compared to the other two men who will be toeing the line in the green and gold on Sunday morning.
The Boxer Athletic Club star, who ruled supreme at the 2019 SA Marathon Championships which were run within the Cape Town Marathon, has a mere two marathons to his name in comparison to seasoned campaigners Mokoka and Mokgobu.
Gelant, an Olympian in the 5 000m five years ago in Rio, has only ever run two marathons – both in Cape Town.
He had hoped for a fantastic maiden international marathon run at last year’s London Marathon where he was among those especially invited for the Covid-19 affected race.
But in the freezing and wet weather conditions, the man from Pacaltsdorp in George failed to finish owing to injury.
He is a tough customer and has long gotten over that failure. He was speaking about a medal long before he left for Tokyo and given that the marathon could well be a tactical instead of fast race, the SA champion might just live up to his words.