Long-distance runner Melikhaya Frans was over the moon on Saturday after delivering a breakthrough performance to win gold at the SA half-marathon Championships in Gqeberha.
Competing in perfect conditions, Frans broke clear of a large lead group with a little more than a quarter of the 21.1km race remaining, and while he looked like he may be dead and buried after he was reeled back in, the 32-year-old Eastern Province star managed to stay in touch.
With the national championship being held in conjunction with the Nelson Mandela Bay half-marathon, Namakoe Nkhasi of Lesotho won a late sprint to secure victory in the open race in 1:01:01.
Frans crossed the line just two seconds back in 1:01:03, ripping more than a minute off his 21.1km personal best of 1:02:17.
“I told myself ‘let me go’ but I saw the group responded quickly, so I decided to go behind and let them do the work for me,” Frans said of his tactics after the race.
“Then I saw they were struggling a bit with the pace in front and I managed to get back in the top three.”
While Frans holds the SA record over the rarely run 30km distance (1:36:30), he has taken a back seat to the likes of Precious Mashele and Stephen Mokoka during his elite career.
On Saturday, however, he showed both athletes a clean pair of heels.
Mashele, the defending champion, finished fourth in the open race in 1:01:13 to grab silver in the SA Championships, with Mokoka snatching bronze in 1:01:14.
Preparing to join Mokoka and the rest of the SA team in the marathon race at the World Athletics Championships, to be held in Eugene next month, Frans was pleased to showcase his impressive form ahead of the global showpiece.
“I think this will improve my status (as an athlete). I’m also very pleased with my personal best time and to have broken the Eastern Province record,” he said.
‘Thanks to my coach Caster’
In the women’s race, Ethiopian athlete Ftaw Bezabh won the open contest in 1:06:57 with a superb solo effort, leading from start to finish.
Glenrose Xaba held on to finish seventh overall in 1:10:41, retaining the national half-marathon title she won last year.
“It was a tough day for me today. After 15km I was feeling a bit weak, and I’m just glad I was able to finish the race,” Xaba said.
“I’m very happy to add another SA title to my name. Thanks to my coach Caster Semenya, my mentor Violet Raseboya, and my training group for helping me achieve my goal.”