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Stephen steers SA to 5th

By Mark Etheridge

Stephen Mokoka once again showed that he’s a man to watch in all three athletics code, on this occasion spearheading Team South Africa to a superb fifth spot at Sunday’s World Cross-Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain.

At last year’s championships, our men, with Mokoka also to the fore, only managed 12th spot so Sunday’s showing over the 12-kilometre course is excellent news for our athletics.

Mokoka also improved on his own 23rd spot in Poland last year and placed 15th overall in a time of 35min 10min, 80sec behind surprise Ethiopian winner Imana Marga.

He had solid back-up from his team-mates with Tshamano Setone next bet in 25th spot and Kgosi Tsosane, our best finisher at the African championships in Rondebosch earlier this month, also breaking into the top 30 with 29th spot.

The team were rounded off by┬á Boy Soke, a former SA cross-country champion, in 44th spot,┬á Xolisa Tyali in 101st spot and the winner of last year’s national trials, Lungisa Mdedelwa in 106th spot.

Team SA’s fine showing meant they beat teams of the calibre of Algeria, Morocco, Spain, the United States and the UK.

In the women’s 8km race, it was the versatile Rene Kalmer who came to the fore, finishing 31st overall in a race once again dominated by the Kenyans with six of their runners in the top 10.

Vivian Cheruiyot, world track champion in the 5000m, was the winner ahead of teammate Linet Masai while for South Africa, the next best finisher was Lebo Phalula in 44th spot. Then came Annerien van Schalkwyk, our best placed finisher at African championships (in 60th spot on Sunday).

However, the remaining trio of our athletes wouldn’t be too happy with their showings as Tebogo Masehla (63rd), Lebogang Phalula (79th) and Mapaseka Makhanya (84th) would have hoped to do better. Still, the South Africans combined to take ninth spot out of 15 teams, one better than at last year’s championships.

Best of our junior boys in their 8km race was William Kaptein with 26th spot and he spearheaded the team to sixth spot out of 17 teams. And in the girls 6km it was Konzeni Gweqwa who fared best in 44th spot as the team ended 10th out of 14 teams.

Manfred Seidler reports that team manager Jean Verster was a happy man afterwards: ÔÇ£I am proud of the team,ÔÇØ he said. ÔÇ£It was a real team effort; everyone pulled together and Steven Mokoka has emerged as a natural leader. This is also the best we have ever performed as a team. I am particularly impressed with the Junior Men and these guys are our future in the middle distances. We need to do everything we possibly can to keep them in the sport and nurture them.ÔÇØ

Verster said the Junior Women could possibly have done better, but nerves and inexperience got the better of them. ÔÇ£They started too slow and too far back to make a real impact. But that really does come down to the nerves. Under the circumstances, them finishing in the top ten, is a fantastic performance.ÔÇØ

The stomach cramps that had bothered Kalmer at African Championships were thankfully not a factor. At the gun she was swept along with the mass, but then gradually found her ÔÇ£comfort zoneÔÇØ and raced to ensure a top-10 team position for South Africa.

There was a moment of panic as Kalmer’s chip did not register over the timing mats and she was not listed in the original team results, with Lebo Phalula best placed. The absence of Kalmer’s time and place saw the team move down to 13th. But a review of the video footage showed her finishing 31st to bring the team position down to 9th.

Mokoka had started off well in the mens’ race, coming through the first lap with the leaders, but then started to feel the pace and also had some difficulties with the logs placed on the 2km circuit. ÔÇ£I don’t steeple well, and I’m short so they did mess with my rthym. I am happy though, 15th overall and 5th in the team. We did well today.ÔÇØ


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