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Mokoka on team plans
- Updated: March 17, 2011
By Mark Etheridge
It’s World Cross-Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain on Sunday and South Africa jet out to Europe on Thursday evening looking to drive their own point across in the four races being contested.
Down the years this particular code of athletics has traditionally been dominated by the Kenyans and Ethiopians and team manager Jean Verster, himself a former SA cross-country runner, is under no illusions that that’s going to change at the coastal beach resort on Sunday. Instead he will be looking for Team SA to nail down a top 10 finish in the team stakes.
ÔÇ£South Africa traditionally places top 10 overall in the team competition and that is what we are trying to maintain this year. We are not yet ready to challenge for individual placings and have to work on our depth first. Remember Kenya have been doing this for over 30 years now, so we cannot expect to be up there with them from the word go,ÔÇØ said Verster.
Mind you at last year’s world championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland South Africa failed to make the top 10 teams in the senior men’s 12km race, so first priority will be to rectify that.
The team, spearheaded by Stephen Mokoka ended 12th of 21 teams with Mokoka best individual finisher in 22nd spot overall.
Mokoka is back this year and said Thursday that he’s in better shape than at the same stage last year. Certainly, his recent form backs him up. One of the country’s most versatile athletes at the moment, he recently dipped under 8min for 3000m on the track in Potchefstroom, placed sixth overall at the African Cross-country Championships in Rondebosch, Cape Town earlier this month and then four days later won a 5000m track race at the Yellow Page Series, also in Cape Town.
“For me it’s important that we run as a team in Spain,” said Mokoka on Thursday. “It’s my dream to see Team SA do well at a World Championships. Obviously I also want to improve on last year’s individual placing but cross-country is about teamwork. I’m definitely quicker than this time last year. I gauged my form at African Championships and there were a few things I needed to work on after that but I’m feeling good now.
“After Sunday’s race I’ll switch my focus to the track again. First priority then is to qualify for the 10,000m at the world track and field championships in Daegu, South Korea later this year.”
Mokoka will be joined in the senior men’s race by Kgosi Tsosane, who won the national trials earlier this year and was SA’s best finish at African championships, Lungiswa Mdedelwa, Boy Soke, Xolisa Tyali and Tshamano Setone.
At last year’s world championships, our top women’s finishers were the Phalula twins, Lebogang (15th) and Lebo (22nd). They spearheaded the SA team to 10th spot (albeit out of just 12 teams) and they’re back at it again in the 8km event.
Our best-placed finisher at African championships was Pretoria’s Annerien van Schalkwyk in 11th spot. She didn’t run last year’s world cross-country championships but placed 56th in the 2009 version in Amman, Jordan. But there’s been a huge change of mindset since then.
“In 2009 I was just happy to be a competitor but this year I’m really aiming to make top 20. I’ve done lots more training on dirt roads and grass rather than tar to get my body used the uneven surface and then also ran the Yellow Pages series to get a bit more speed because that’s a part of my training that I battle with. My coach (Kenyan Dan Muchoki) specialises in cross-country and his programme has definitely made a difference.
“I’ve got no doubt it’s going to be very hard but then again, the reward of a good position will be worth the pain.”
National 800m track champion Mapaseka Makhanya is also in the team and the Soweto athlete will be breaking new ground. “This is my first time at world cross-country champs but I ran well at African champs so I’m hoping to pick up where I left off. My mind is ready and I’m looking forward to it. I always used to think that cross-country is too long for me and for slower people and being a track runner I consider myself quick but it’s not really like that at all.”
SA steeplechase champion Tebogo Masehla will be looking to improve on her performance at last year’s world championships. “I ended 77th and wasn’t happy at all. I just don’t know what went wrong and was off the pace right from the start. This year I’ll be happy with a position somewhere in the 40s or 50s.”
The final member of the senior women’s team is the versatile Rene Kalmer who will be representing her country at a fourth world cross-country championships. Cross-country is probably the code that Kalmer finds least comfortable and her sights are set on running her first international marathon, in Prague, Czech Republic, in May.
First prize in both the senior team competitions is $20,000 with prizes going down to sixth spot ($4,000).
South Africa also have two junior teams doing duty, in the women’s category (6km) and men (8km).
The full team that will travel to Spain is:
Senior Men (12km): Kgosi Tsosane, Stephen Mokoka, Lungiswa Mdedelwa, Boy Soke, Xolisa Tyali, Tshamano Setone
Senior Women (8km): Lebogang Phalula, Annerien van Schalkwyk, Lebo Phalula, Mapaseka Makhanya, Teboho Masehla, Rene Kalmer
Junior Men (8km): William Kaptain, Merline Klaaste, Jeromy Andreas, Luyanda Qolo, Luxolo Mdzanga, Edwin Sesipi
Junior Women (6km): Letitia Snyman, Caroline Marandela, Thato Makhafola, Sylvia Tshetlanyane, Thandeka Manzana, Konzeni Gwegwe