By Mark Etheridge
His super marathon debut in the Far East at the weekend may have all but gone undetected but maybe that’s just because Stephen Mokoka was going that fast he flew under the radar!
Former New York marathon winner and for some time now our leading marathon light, Hendrick Ramaala went on record in the Road to London, 2012 magazine earlier this year as saying that Mokoka was the future of South African marathon running. He said Mokoka was “a hard worker who has his feet on the ground”.
He’s a man who should know… and the fruits were certainly there to see in Seoul, Korea last weekend.
The race was the annual JoongAng Seoul Marathon and Nedbank Running Club’s Mokoka excelled to place fourth in 2hr 08min 33sec. Race winner was Kenyan David Kemboi Kiyeng, just 18 sec quicker than Mokoka.
“It was a hard race, but I enjoyed it,” Mokoka said from Tshwane on Thursday. “The first half was quite easy because I’m used to running half-marathons but I certainly felt the pain towards the end of the race. We ran quite even splits, around 64min although I think the second half was marginally faster.
“Until about 35km I was running just behind the lead pack and around 39km I was second but then at 40km my left calf cramped a bit so I backed off. I got back to second spot but then two more guys passed me right at the end.
“My coach, Michael Seme. and I were looking to run a time of around 2:07 but I guess we’re happy with 2:08,” he said in something of an understatement.
Going by the 2010 SA athletics annual, that means only seven South Africans have ever run faster marathons than him. Of those seven only Ramaala is currently actively competitive and aged 38 knows that even he doesn’t have that many 2:08 marathons left in his legs. He’s also now among the world’s top 60 marathons on the planet for 2010.
It certainly looks like Mokoka is the man to turn to for marathon glory in London, 2012 — provided he decides to concentrate on that distance. “I can’t say for sure at this stage,” he says. “For now I’m going to take about a two-week break and then get back to track training. My main goal for 2011 is to make the South African team for the IAAF world track and field championships in Korea and I’m aiming to qualify in the 10,000m on the track.”