Stephen Mokoka’s is fast becoming a legend in the SA running circle. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
Stephen Mokoka’s is fast becoming a legend in the SA running circle. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Who is SA's running legend, Ramaala, Mtolo, Thugwane ... Mokoka?

By Matshelane Mamabolo Time of article published Sep 29, 2019

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Stephen Mokoka’s standing as a South African running legend is without question, yet even the man himself is realistic enough to admit that he still lags behind some of the country’s superstars.

And as he looked ahead to the marathon at the World Championships in Doha next weekend, the man who has shone on the track, in cross country as well as on the road, spoke of how he dreams of adding his name on that list of South Africans who have won big marathons.

Mokoka’s eyes light up when he talks of the likes of his mentor Hendrik Ramaala, road-running great Willie Mtolo and the unassuming super achiever that is Josiah Thugwane.

His admiration of these three men is totally understandable. Granted he has just recently broken Ramaala’s national half marathon record, having also been crowned national champion at the 21.1km distance on no less than six occasions. Damn his domination of the full marathon at the ASA Championships in recent times makes him worthy of the title of SA Marathon king.

But to have his name mentioned in the same breath as those of the trio mentioned above, Mokoka needs a massive run at a big stage. That is what makes legends. Success at the highest level.

That Ramaala remains the scale just about every runner is measured by has everything to do with his performances at international level. Most specifically, it is because of his victory at the New York Marathon that the man from Limpopo remains revered long after he had ceased running competitively.

The same rings true for Willie Mtolo. For while he has clocked many a great wins here at home, among them the SA Marathon Championships, Two Oceans, Mtolo - a Comrades Marathon runner-up on two occasions - is generally remembered for winning the New York Marathon.

One of the world’s seven major marathons, the New York race is the creme de la creme of marathons, and to win it is one of the ultimate goals for any elite runner. Succeed there and you are a legend - period.

And then there is Thugwane. Who could ever forget that moment in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympics when the man from Mpumalanga ran into the stadium with his very dark sunglasses and the victory sign? Thugwane’s win at the Games rates as one of the country’s greatest sporting moments ever and while South Africa does not treat him like the true legend he is, those who understand sport know just how fantastic that feat is.

Mokoka is one of those and the Boxer Athletics Club superstar lists Thugwane as one of his heroes and dreams of emulating him.

It is for that reason that Mokoka turned down a big payday at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon where he could have defended the title he won in record time last year just so he can give himself a chance at marathon immortality by representing South Africa at the World Championships.

He is one of four marathoners who will carry the national flag and hopes of glory in Doha on the 6th, with Desmond Mokgobu, Thabiso Moeng and David Manja also part of the team.

Mokoka is the best of the group given his 2:08:31 record-breaking run at the Cape Town Marathon last year. He has plenty of international experience and has matured with age to know just how to pace himself well in such competitions.

Will he realise the glory he so craves in Doha? That is a question that can only be answered on race day. But one thing certain is that Mokoka will not be in Doha to add to the numbers. This, after all, is a man determined to leave a lasting legacy in road running. And he knows only too well that it is victory at events such as the World Championships that will see him revered as much as the likes of Ramaala, Mtolo and Thugwane.


Sunday Independent 

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