CAPE TOWN – The story of a Southern Cape farm girl who achieved greatness provided the inspiration for Elroy Gelant to channel his energy into athletics.
On Sunday, Gelant will go head to head against some of East Africa’s best in the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in the hope of following in Stephen Mokoka’s fast footsteps in clinching a home victory.
And should he do so, that farm girl, Cape Town Marathon Race Ambassador, Elana van Zyl, will be the first to congratulate him on the finish line.
“I remember reading about Elana when I was a young boy growing up in George, not far from her family farm in Albertina,” recalled Gelant. “I was amazed that someone from our small SWD province was now a world star. That gave me hope that perhaps one day I could also make my mark.”
Gelant, 33, has made his mark over distances from 800m to the marathon, and holds the national 5000m record of 13 min 04,88 sec.
Gelant has proved himself over sub-marathon distances – his win at the Two Oceans Half Marathon this year and his personal best of 1:01:01 at the national half marathon championships in Port Elizabeth six weeks ago, losing out to Mokoka, is evidence of that. And he is now poised to run a world-class marathon and believes that Sunday in Cape Town represents the best time and place to do so.
“I’m happy with my form and condition and believe I can make a significant improvement on my first marathon of 2 hrs 12 min. Many of the elite runners on Sunday have run 2:07 – 2:08 marathons and that’s the time I’m aiming for to challenge for a place in the Tokyo Olympics.”
Whether Gelant, who will be running in the colours of Athletics North West as part of the South African Marathon Championships in a race within a race, will be able to hold off the top East Africans is an intriguing question. The field has no fewer than nine sub-2hrs 10 min marathon athletes scheduled to be at the start, five of those faster than 2:09.
Two who are likely to provide Gelant with his strongest opposition, achieved personal bests at the same race. Ethiopian Tariku Kinfu finished a second in the 2017 Seville Marathon in Spain, clocking 2:07:48 while Kenyan Kipkemoi Kipsang was third in 2:08:26. Samuel Mwaniki, Edwin Kipkoech and Wilfred Murgor, all from Kenya, Ethiopians Abdi Fufa and Melaku Belachew, Ugandan Robert Chemonges and Moroccan Mohamed Ziani will all be strong contenders.
In the women’s race 22-year old Ethiopian, Abeba-Tekulu Gerbemeskel, will look to improve on her remarkable 2:24:53 best and 23-year old Kenyan, Celestine Chepchirchir, 5 seconds quicker than Gerbemeskel, will aim to excel on her home continent. Both have the ability to improve Helalia Johannes’ race record set last year of 2:29:28 by some distance.
The Phalula twins, Lebo and Lebogang, are set to lead the South African charge, albeit some distance behind the East Africans, and look strong contenders for the national title.
A significant entry is that of Lungile Gongqa, running for Western Province in the national championships as a favourite in the 40 year masters’ category. Fresh from his runners-up medal in the World 50km Championships in Romania two weeks ago, Gongqa will be out to relive his superb 2:11 Cape Town Marathon in 2015, which catapulted him into the 2016 Rio Olympics team.
The marathon gets underway on Sunday in Beach Road Green Point at 6.40am, with the 10km Peace Run / Walk starting in Fritz Sonnenberg Road, Green Point at 7.30am. The Peace Trail 22km and 12km races take place tomorrow, starting in Vlei Road, Green Point, at 7.30am and 8.15am respectively.