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South African Universiade star rewrites history in half marathon

27 August 2019

Like an aging wine which only tastes better over time, South African Universiade veteran Stephen Mokoka continues to defy the odds while clocking barely-believable times as he continues his upward trajectory in middle distance running.


The Mafikeng-born athlete was undoubtedly born to run, having represented South Africa in cross country, on the track and on the road, while competing in distances ranging from 3000 metre s to marathons.


While studying at the Tshwane University of Technology, where he has since graduated with a Sports Management degree, Mokoka was able to combine his studies with his now full-time profession: running, where he has previously bagged four Universiade medals as a student-athlete.


A commendable bronze medal over the 10,000m at the Bangkok 2007 Summer Universiade was then upgraded to a silver in the same event in Shenzhen 2011, before enjoying a memorable and final Universiade performance in Kazan 2013 where he finally secured 10,000m gold. Mokoka followed that performance up with a silver in the half marathon event just four days later.


Since then he has claimed the title of African 10,000m champion, represented his country at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games and most recently claimed gold in the South African Half Marathon Championships in Port Elizabeth last month.


Yet the 34-year-old etched his name into South African history this past weekend following his memorable performance at the Buenos Aires Half Marathon in Argentina. Despite ending the race just outside the podium places in fourth position, Mokoka ran a time of 59 minutes and 51 seconds, becoming the first South African ever to officially dip under the 60-minute mark in a half marathon. In so doing, Mokoka shaved 16 seconds off the previous South African half marathon record set by his self-professed role model, Hendrick Ramaala, whose record had stood since October 1997.


Compatriot and trainer partner Glenrose Xaba finished fifth in the women’s race, yet ran the third-fastest time ever for a South African in the 21.1km event, with both her and Mokoka’s heroics earning praise from the country’s highest authorities.


“A wonderful performance by two consistent and very hungry athletes,” said Aleck Skhosana, the President of Athletics South Africa.


“We congratulate them both, but we take special note of the national record set by Mokoka. In that regard we thank the efforts of the athlete and the work of the coach and support staff, and urge them to remain focused to reach new heights.”

 Stephen Mokoka in action during the London 2012 Summer Olympics marathon en route to 49th place in a time of 2:19:52.

Having barely cooled off after Sunday’s blistering race, Mokoka was back in training on Monday and fully focused on his next goal: next month’s marathon race at the IAAF World Championships in Doha.


Mokoka brushed aside his incredible achievement of setting a new national record, with his sights fully set on the 42.2km event in September.


“My coach [Michael Seme] always says we have to do a warm-up race five or six weeks before a marathon, if the programme is going well,” Mokoka told reporters.


“You want to run well without working hard, in order to show that your marathon preparation is going well, and I can say I’m not feeling tired after the race, so it shows we’re on the right track.”


Since his Universiade success, Mokoka has since pioneered his way forward to become one of the brightest stars, and now national record holder, on the South African running scene, a journey which began while balancing both education and sport. Mokoka is proof that it can be done, and is no doubt an inspiration for many to follow suit.

Mokoka on the 10,000m athletics podium during the Kazan 2013 Summer Universiade