EXCLUSIVE: Cape Town Marathon winner Stephen Mokoka talks to Sport24


South African Stephen Mokoka

  • 2021 Cape Town Marathon winner Stephen Mokoka talks about putting the disappointment of the Olympics behind him and winning his second title in the mother city.
  • The 36-year-old reveals his football background, his support for the Kaizer Chiefs and whether he thinks Stuart Baxter is the right man to coach “South Africa’s greatest team”.
  • He also talks about taking inspiration from Eliud Kipchoge as his inspiration and how much longer he sees himself competing on a professional front in the grueling world of the marathon.

Sport24 asked: How does it feel to have won the Cape Town Marathon?

Stephen Mokoka: It’s great to have won and I can say I am blessed. Thank God, my family, my trainer, my training mates, sponsor Nike and the Boxer Athletics Club for taking care of me during the pandemic. Whether you are a professional runner like me or do some social athletics, it was great to be back on the road. My advice to people who are socially athletic is that if the legs can’t support it, just step back, take a deep breath, and then try to find a rhythm that the body can tolerate. When racing, I always take things according to how my body feels and find a suitable pace. As for the 42.2km event being the first mass marathon participation event in South Africa in over 18 months, with 9,000 runners on the streets of Cape Town, I really hope it’s the start of things to come and the country to open up. I hope the South African government, in tandem with Athletics South Africa and us, the runners, will continue to cooperate in accordance with Covid-19 safety protocols so that the privilege of competing cannot be taken away from us.

Sport24 asked: How would you describe your race preparation for the event?

Stephen Mokoka: Mental preparation was not easy and some days my mind was coming back to the Tokyo Olympics. (Mokoka failed to complete the marathon in Japan due to the extreme heat). Some days I felt positive and other days I wondered what had happened in Japan earlier this year. With the marathons, it’s a very long trip because it takes more than two hours of running. As for this year’s Cape Town Marathon, it was just a matter of going step by step and seeing how those two hours of racing would go. In the last part of the race where I took the lead, it was with God’s blessing and the kind of training I did with my group. When I passed a few runners around the 40-41 km mark and reached the front of the peloton, I thought to myself: “This shows that my training has gone well and I think I am going. have now. When I got up and turned left on the blue mark, I thought, “This is it; it (the race) is done! I can say that I am happy that the victory remained in South Africa and not part of our shores. It was for me, my team and especially for all of South Africa. To be victorious as a South African in a national race is important. My time of 2:09:58 was nice considering the difficult weather conditions. With the rain it was cold in the middle of the race and my vest and shorts were wet. The roads were muddy and you had to watch where you were running and check around. Because of these tough challenges, a time like this is a very good one.

Sport24 asked: have you put the disappointment of the Olympics behind you?

Stephen Mokoka: There are days when I wake up and ask, “What really happened? I don’t get any answers but the only thing I say to myself is, “It wasn’t my day.” And this is how I go on and on with my life. In sport we go through very difficult processes. Maybe we put all of our eggs in one basket for the Olympics because it was something we wanted the most as a group. (After Mokoka dropped out of the Tokyo 2020 marathon, coach Michael Seme reportedly said, “This was not the Mokoka we knew. He dropped his training squad and has to redeem himself by winning in Cape Town. . “) We wanted medal at the Olympics, so I understand his comments when it was not received. The reason he pointed out that the group had been abandoned was because he is a man who believes in teamwork. Every type of training we do is based on fellowship. Coach Seme was trying to say that the group didn’t get what they wanted. The man did not do well and then he did not sit well with the group. The band members have sacrificed so much in the team and we didn’t expect something like this to happen. We trained for five to six months before the Olympics, and then getting such a result was not easy for everyone involved. In track and field, you are not as good as in your last race. The next time I get beaten up people will say another guy is better than Stephen. In sports performance is the most important thing, and if you are able to be consistent it is always a blessing.

Sport24 asked: Does your talent for athletics run through your family’s veins?

Stephen Mokoka: No, I actually come from a footballing family so I wouldn’t know where my running genetics came from. I was a footballer before I started athletics and dreamed of playing for my beloved Kaizer Chiefs when I was younger. However, when I met Coach Seme (who also coached Caster Semenya) running came into play. When I started out I was playing track and field and playing football at the same time. But since I started working with my trainer in 2005 he convinced me to be a full time runner and nothing else. While running was God’s plan for me, I miss those days when I played football and I don’t know where I could be now if I chose this last sport … As for Amakhosi, the team already has worked with Stuart Baxter and us because the supporters followed his coaching career closely. He has done a lot for the team but this generation of players is different. The squad he had on his first stint with the Chiefs is different from today and fans need to be patient. A bad match doesn’t mean it’s the end and you have to give the man a fair chance. For me, Chiefs is the greatest team not only in South Africa but in the world. As a result, we know that a lot is expected of Baxter. I think we have to give him a chance and see where he takes the club.

Sport24 asked: Is ex-training buddy Caster Semenya an inspiration?

Stephen Mokoka: Caster is a great woman and to be honest my international competitive mentality was because of her. We worked together in a training group from 2009 to 2011 and within seven months she became the world champion. When she came back with the medal, I remember saying to her, “Now it’s my turn. Then I went to run a half marathon and finished 8th. I always want to get a world athletics medal because Caster got a medal when I was training with her. She has been a huge influence in my career and I still admire her for the way she behaves on the pitch. She spends many hours training and working on her body in order to be as strong an athlete as she can be. The role she played when I worked with her was awesome. Even though we don’t train together anymore, she hasn’t changed her attitude.

Sport24 asked: How would you rate Eliud Kipchoge’s career in sports?

Stephen Mokoka: He came from athletics and cross country backgrounds and developed throughout the process until he became the world record holder in terms of the marathon. He is the only man in the world to have run a marathon in less than two hours. The race in Austria was great to watch. There was a lot of logistics, technicality and technology involved. For him, finally setting a time of less than two hours was special. I was part of the first attempt in Italy in 2017. I saw what it takes to organize something like this and it is very demanding. I remember that you had to get up around 4am to train in Monza. You have to train and know the training before the race itself. We spent almost an hour doing one little thing to get it right. I’m happy for Eliud that he got the record and for the team behind him who managed to get out of it. I respect the way he behaves as a team player in a training group and admire how he is so disciplined by only competing two marathons a year. Even though I’m a long way from him in terms of time (as a marathon winner) we’re still adversaries so I don’t mean he’s a role model on the road. However, I appreciate his longevity in sport. At the world championships in Paris in 2003, I wasn’t even a runner yet and he won the event. 18 years later and he’s still winning races. His way of doing things is extremely unique and he is currently the greatest marathoner of all time. We don’t know what will happen in the future but so far his records really speak for themselves.

Sport24 asked: what does the future hold and when will you call it someday?

Stephen Mokoka: As a runner it’s a process and you get bigger with age. I think I am maturing well in terms of a marathon. There is a certain moment in life when you have to accept to move from one discipline to another. I have passed the stage where I have to be on the track. Now it’s all about running longer because it’s nicer and more fun. The body does not recover as quickly as it used to be and the muscles and nerves cannot withstand heavy training like when I was still doing track and field. I like to run long distances rather than going too fast. If you want to be an athlete who runs on the world stage for a long time, you need to be selective from an early age so that you don’t overwork your body. You need to develop your body first before you can start performing the right things. As for my running load, it’s always two marathons a year, one half marathon, two or three 10k races and one 12k races. I have six or seven races a year. As for hanging up my running shoes, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few years but so far I’m feeling good. I still believe that I can give more to sport and the body is strong. I’m still setting benchmarks and before I retire I’d like to see my time in the top three in South Africa – right now it’s around number five. If I can place him in the top three of the best South Africans of all time, I will be happy, besides having set a personal best of around 2:06/7 … These days racing against the youngsters is both exciting and difficult. When I compete with them I think to myself, “Eish, I wish these boys were gentle with me – I’m old” but I love the competition and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Stefan Terblanche

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Marcelo bosch

Annelee murray

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