Facing an onslaught of global distance running stars, the South African team have a mountain to climb, but if they can grit their teeth and find enough collective strength, they could make history at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus.
After arriving in Denmark on Thursday, the 22-member national squad took a walk on the 2km looped course yesterday, and though they admitted they were intimidated by the unique rooftop hills which awaited them, team manager Jakes Jacobs said they were in good spirits.
“It’s a very tough course with an uphill start,” Jacobs said.
“But everyone must run the same course, and everyone here has agreed that it’s going to be hard, so our athletes will just need to go out there and do their best.”
And though their best might not be good enough to challenge for the country’s first ever medal at the biennial showpiece, the SA women’s team would have been quietly hoping to spring a surprise against their fancied opponents with the likes of Dom Scott-Efurd, Kesa Molotsane and Glenrose Xaba offering enough depth to give them at least a slim chance in the team competition.
Up front, the pace was expected to be set by the East African armada, with world 5 000m champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya turning out as the pre-race favourite in the women’s 10km contest.
Meanwhile, in the men’s 10km race, the SA team included the likes of national champion Precious Mashele, versatile steeplechaser Rantso Mokopane, and rising stars Ryan Mphahlele and Kabelo Seboko.
They too were expected to struggle, however, against a quality line-up which included Kenyan athlete Geoffrey Kamworor, who was aiming for his third straight title, and Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei.