Track star wins half-marathon

SPEED trumped endurance in the half-marathon race at the Two Oceans in Cape Town on Saturday as Stephen Mokoka claimed victory in exactly 1hr 04min.

Mokoka powered into the lead with 1.5km to go before fending off Elroy Gelant (1:04:04) and Joel Mmone (1:04:05).

The three are all track athletes who will line up against each other again next weekend in the 5 000m at the two-day SA championships in Stellenbosch.

Fifth in 1:04.20 was two-time champion Lusapho April, in his final preparations for the Boston Marathon, just 13 days away.

“They’ve got speed,” a relaxed April, who finished third in the New York Marathon in 2013, said. “I’m happy – I’m where I want to be ahead of Boston.”

He believes the Two Oceans 21km race, with a winner’s cheque of R25 000, has attracted more top runners since he won in 2010 and 2011.

Mokoka also boasts marathon credentials, having been a teammate of April’s in the 42km race at the 2012 Olympics in London, but this time he is focusing on the 10 000m.

His personal best for the marathon is 2:08.33, just one second slower than April’s 2:08.32.

Mokoka, 30, achieved one of two required 10 000m qualifying times in 2012, so he instead opted to compete in the 42km epic, for which he had needed just one qualifying time.

“At the 2011 world championships I was lapped in the 10 000m, and in 2013 I lost by 150m.

“I will see what happens at the world championships in Beijing this year. If I keep improving, I will focus on the 10 000m for the Rio Olympics next year.

Gelant, making his Two Oceans debut, said he had held back when Mokoka kicked because he mistakenly thought there was another hill coming.

But now his focus will shift to the 5 000m, where he is hoping to break the South African record one day.

Women’s half-marathon winner Lebogang Phalula will also be in action at the national championships, competing in both the 800m and 1 500m.

Two Oceans ultra-marathon victor Motlokoa Nkhabutlane said he intended dropping back to the standard marathon to focus on next year’s Olympics.

Women’s 56km queen Caroline Wostmann was more doubtful about her chances in a marathon, where her best is 2:44:57.

“I don’t know if I’ve got the speed. I prefer endurance – the longer I run the better I get.”

Wostmann is targeting a podium finish at the Comrades.

-David Isaacson