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South Africa

Road to Paris: African Olympic hopefuls shine in Durban ahead of the Paris Olympics

todayJuly 8, 2024 12

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By Stephen Granger, bird story agency

 

 

Just a month before athletes head to Paris for the 2024 Olympics, some of the Africa’s top marathoners gathered in the port city of Durban on July 7 to compete in the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10k — and the results highlighted a depth of talent that suggests the Paris Olympics will be a specatacle of African running superiority.

South African Olympian Elroy Gelant raced to victory in his life best 10km of 27 min 47 sec, while Glenrose ‘Supercharger’ Xaba beat Elana Van Zyl Meyer’s 33-year-old national 10km record to cash in on lucrative incentives.

Both Gelant and his teammate Stephen Mokoka signalled their Olympic Marathon intent with impressive and controlled racing in Durban.

Kenyan Christine Njoki emerged the fastest female athlete on South African soil, her winning time of 30 min 37 sec beating her compatriot Jesca Chelangat’s 2022 time by four seconds.

In a celebration of African excellence, Ethiopian junior, Debash Desta, Kenyan Judith Kiyeng, Xaba, Lesotho’s Neheng Khatala, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebru Tsihay and Lesotho’s Blandine Makatisi followed Njoki to the line with personal best times and national records aplenty.

In the men’s race, South Africa’s Kabelo Mulaudzi and Thabang Mosiako, Tanzanian Mao Ako, Mokoka, South African record holder Precious Mashele and Ugandan Keneth Kiprop followed hard on Gelants heels. Just 16 seconds separated the top 7, with no fewer than five sub-28 minute times on top of the scoreboard.

Xaba went out with Njoki in the early stages and came home in 4th just 35 seconds behind the world-class Kenyan and was delighted to have broken one of her country’s oldest road records.

“I didn’t do it for myself, I did it for my coaches, Castor and Violet Semenya, and our supporters team,” an emotional Xaba said before acknowledging her shoe sponsor, Puma, and the series founder, Michael Meyer of Stillwater for the race invitation.

“This record has been my wish for a long time. I didn’t need to break 31 minutes, I just needed to break the record by one second, so I can break it again bit by bit!

“Elana Meyer believed in me when I was younger. She motivates me when I look at her times and what she achieved. I’d like to be like her and leave a legacy so the young athletes can look up to me in the way I look up to her.

“I believed that Durban would give me the record. Durban is my second home because my father comes from here and my ancestors give me the strength! I appreciate the support I get from Durban – that makes me push harder and stay motivated.”

Van Zyl Meyer also had words of praise for Xaba. “I’m glad that my 10km time could have been a target for so long,” she joked. “And I’m happy that it went to a consistent athlete with a great work ethic.

“Glenrose was the athlete who had the highest testing results when she attended our Endurocad Camp in May 2017 and it’s great to see her progress.

Xaba enjoyed the biggest pay day of her career, her 4th position, national record and sub 31:33 incentive prizes totaling R145 000.

Debash Desta is the latest in a fertile field of world-class junior female athletes from Ethiopia, and she raced to another top-class performance, crossing the line in second, just two seconds off her life-time best, set in Spain in February, while 30 year old Kenyan, Judith Kiyeng, equalled her lifetime best of 31:10 for third place.

Lesotho athlete Neheng Khatala clawed back her national 10km record she lost to Blandine Makatisi, after her country-woman took it from her with a time of 32:05 in the series opener in Gqeberha. Khatala improved her personal best and the record to 32:01 with her fifth-placed finish this morning.

Gelant aims to race in Paris without being intimated by the reputations of others in the field, notably the world-leading east Africans.

“Everything I’ve done in past months was to test my ability and get the fear out of my body ahead of the Olympics,” Gelant confided.

“It was a fantastic race – I can feel my training coming through. Those last 2km I was still feeling fresh. This is a big confidence booster going into the Olympics.

“If you look at my last few races, I’ve been going hard from the start and that’s what I did today – to test my own ability. I knew the pressure was on me today with (Kenyan) Vincent Kiplangat not here today (winner of the first two RYC races in Gqeberha and Cape Town) but I told myself I actually like the pressure on me.

As always, Gelant was quick to acknowledge the support he receives from his home town in Pacaltsdorp, George, and his current base in Potchefstroom. “And also my training mates with me here in the race. We will celebrate today!”

While Gelant was enjoying the moment in Durban, it was clear his thoughts and purpose reach towards Paris.

“In the past, there has often been a fear of the east African athletes so wanted to work on that side –to be a little bit fearless when I stand next to these guys on the start line. I would love a top fifteen position… A top ten would be amazing.”

Mokoka was more than happy with his 27:56 – the second sub-28 minute performance in his career – but indicated there was more work to do in the weeks ahead. “We still have a lot to do in the next few weeks to be in shape,” Mokoka remarked, after he had earlier indicated his aim to run a 28 min 10km in Durban.

Unlike Gelant, Mokoka started conservatively but worked his way up to the leaders before the halfway mark and staying the pace to finish just 9 seconds behind Gelant for an ideal pre-Olympic shake out.

South African Olympic Marathon coach, Michael Mbambani, was an interested spectator in Durban. “I think the South African athletes are starting to say ‘when you come to South Africa, we are in charge’!” said Mbambani. “The top five running sub-28 min times and fifteen running under 29 minutes – I’m happy with that.

“For the Olympics, Stephen and Elroy both signalled that they are ready. Remember that Olympic races have no pacers, and no one will be helping another runner to a medal. No athlete is a rightful owner of a medal – all athletes who have qualified stand a chance for a podium place, including the South Africans.

“I think Elroy and Stephen’s ages are perfect. This will likely be their last Olympics which will mean something to both of them. Mentally they are…ready to take on the world!

“We are training athletes to run without fear and just go with what their body tells them. Hopefully our female athletes will also be on course with their training.”

The following are the top 10 winners of the 2024 Absa ‘Run your city Durban 10k’.

**TOP 10 MEN**
1. Elroy Gelant (RSA) 0:27:47, 2. Kabelo Mulaudzi (RSA) 0:27:53, 3. Thabang Mosiako (RSA) 0:27:54, 4. Mao Ako (Tanzania) 0:27:55, 5 Stephen Mokoka (RSA) 0:27:56, 6. Precious Mashele (RSA) 0:28:01, 7. Keneth Kiprop (UGA) 0:28:03, 8. Nadeel Wildschutt (RSA) 0:28:07, 9. Chris Mhlangu (RSA) 0:28:24, 10. Kamohelo Mofolo (LES) 0:28:33.

**TOP 10 WOMEN**
1. Christine Njoki (KEN) 0:30:37, 2. Debash Desta (ETH) 0:31:00, 3. Judith Kiyeng (KEN) 0:31:10, 4. Glenrose Xaba (RSA) 0:31:12, 5. Neheng Khatala (LES) 0:32:01, 6. Haile Gebru Tsihay (ETH) 0:32:09, 7. Blandina Makatisi (LES) 0:32:40, 8. Karabo Mailula (RSA) 0:33:08, 9. Cacisile Sosibo (RSA) 0:33:36, 10. Ntsoaki Molahloe (RSA) 0:33:52

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