With one athlete looking to bounce back from a crushing blow and the other eager to close out a spectacular season, Stephen Mokoka and Gerda Steyn will have different motivations on Sunday, but both are expected to put up a fight against strong international fields at the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon.
Mokoka is not only the fastest man in the line-up with his 2:07:40 personal best, but he’s also the course record holder after winning the 2018 edition of the annual 42km race in the Mother City in 2:08:31.
He toes the line, however, off the back of a disappointing result after dropping out in the latter stages of the Olympic marathon in Tokyo in August – a rare defeat for the country’s best distance runner.
And while Mokoka no doubt has the class to bounce back and claim the R200 000 first prize, he will have to be at his best to beat the likes of veteran Ethiopian Ameta Belachew, who clocked 2:07:55 in Seville last year, and a powerful Kenyan contingent led by Robert Chemosin, who holds a career best of 2:08:05.
With the race hosting the national championships, Mokoka will also have to hold off challenges from multiple compatriots, including the likes of Sibusiso Nzima, Tumelo Motlagale, Philani Buthelezi and David Manja.
Steyn, meanwhile, isn’t expected to face much of a battle for the national title, though she too meets a world-class line-up in the Cape Town Marathon women’s race, in her first 42km contest on SA soil.
After clocking 2:25:28 in Sienna earlier this year, breaking the 25-year-old South African record, Steyn finished 15th in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics.
She will need to deliver another outstanding performance, however, against the likes of Kenyan Lucy Karimi – the fastest woman in the field with a personal best of 2:24:24 – and an Ethiopian onslaught which features Nurit Shimels, Beje Bekelu Geleta, Aynalem Kassahun Teferi and Ayantu Abera Demisse, who have all gone under 2:30:00.
Cool, overcast conditions are expected for the elite race, which starts at 6.15am.
A mass field of 10 000 runners will also take part, with organisers using a rolling start to abide by health and safety restrictions.
All participants were required to return negative Covid antigen tests over the weekend in order to take part.