By Mark Etheridge
Despite the absence of world class Olympic athletes Stephen Mokoka and Rene Kalmer, the national cross country team are aiming high at this weekend’s World Championships in bitterly cold Bydgoszcz, Poland.
A team of 16 athletes left sizzling South Africa on Thursday and will be competing in temperatures close to 30 degrees Celcius lower than what they’ve been training in.
Team manager is the hugely experienced Jean Verster, himself a former national cross country champion.
“We’re aiming for top 10 finishes for all our four teams in Poland,” he told Road to Rio 2016. “Obviously we lost a few top runners from the 2011 team (Stephen, Rene etc) but this year we do have Elroy Gelant and Mapaseka Makhanya in really good shape.
“I believe that his year’s championships will have bigger fields, because its being held in Europe and also with World Championshps now only every second year, we think more top runners will be taking part.”
Verster is also wary of the weather factor. “The weather is going to be a factor as Bydgoszscz has had several snow storms in the last few weeks. It has also been very cold with day time temperatures at below zero and night time temps of -15. They are expecting a bit warmer weather for Sunday but this will cause a lot of snow melting and more mud! We will have to adapt to the conditions, but its the same for everyone anyway!”
World championships debutant Nolene Conrad is both excited and apprehensive. “I hope we get some warm clothing to run in! But from my side I’m just looking forward to competing at my first World Cross Country Championships. It’s a great opportunity for me and it’s part of my build-up towards Rio 2016,” said the tiny Central Gauteng athlete.
“My other main goal this year is to qualify for World Track and Field Championships in Moscow. I’m on track with my preparations and hopefully I can achieve that goal too when I compete on the European circuit in May-June.
“As far as Sunday goes, I have experienced girls in my team and I’m confident that we’ll do well, we just need to work together.”