Stephen Mokoka on his way to victory at the South African Championships (Roger Sedres - Image SA) © Copyright
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Mokoka plays star role in Port Elizabeth – South African Champs

Stephen Mokoka opened the Yellow Pages South African Track and Field Championships in Port Elizabeth (13 / 14 April) with both an Olympic qualifying mark and the third best ever performance by a South African in the 10,000m earning the national title in 27:40.73.  

Mokoka was one of five athletes posting Olympic qualifying performances over the two days of championships, which fell short of the anticipated ten qualifying marks partly due to strong winds on the Friday (13).

The multiple national champion initially traded the lead with training partner Gladwin Mzazi before breaking free to earn the title with over 200m in hand.  

The ‘windy city’, Port Elizabeth, has been home to 11 of South Africa’s top fifteen 10,000m times including both Hendrick Ramaala’s record of 27:29.94 and Xoxile Yawa’s 27:39.65.

Mokoka has now qualified in both the 10,000m and the Marathon where he currently heads the list of five qualifiers. “We have yet to decide which event to focus on, but I think the marathon is best,” said the Gauteng North athlete.

National record for Coertzen

Willem Coertzen broke his own national record of 8146 points in the Decathlon to secure an Olympic qualification with a total score of 8244, currently the best in the world so far this year. Along the way the London-based athlete set personal bests of 4.63m in the Pole Vault, 66.95m in the Javelin Throw and 4:23.75 for the 1500m.

“Competing against the British guys certainly helped,” said Coertzen in reference to Dan Awde, Ben Hazell, and Matthew George who have been doing winter training in Potchefstroom over recent weeks.  “Keeping the combined events as an open championship is important. There are only a couple of competitive opportunities in South Africa.”  

The heat and relatively windless conditions of the second day were conducive to Sunette Viljoen easing her progression in the Javelin to 61.15 metres to put her in line for London berth.

Sprint double

Simon Magakwe won the sprint double and once again cracked the Olympic qualification in the 100m where his 10.11 sec PB held off challengers Roscoe Engel (10.20) and Hannes Dreyer (10.42). Thuso Mpaung just failed to get the better of the Central North west sprinter in the 200m where the title was earned in 20.59 seconds to Mpuang’s 20.60, with Sergio Mullins out of steam in 21.09.

Tsholofelo Thipe succeeded in securing the women’s 100m in 11.56 ahead of Cherese Jones 11.58, but had to settle for second in the long sprint which saw Sonja van der Merwe take the gold in 23.60.

Van Zyl defeated but still on the way to London

The championships were punctuated with a few upsets and surprises for the experienced heads; not least of which was Cornel Fredericks' victory ahead of World bronze medallist LJ van Zyl in the 400m Hurdles. Leading the way into the final bend it seemed as though van Zyl would add another title to his CV, but it was Fredericks who pushed the turbo button and pulled past to break the beam in 48.91.

It was however, mission accomplished for van Zyl, who finished in 51.00 and had already acquired the two Olympic qualification marks required by Athletics South Africa but needed only to compete at the national championships to cement his selection.

Visser suprises Mokoena

The biggest surprise of the first day came from Zarck Visser who put two jumps out ahead of Khotso Mokoena in the Long Jump.

Although passing the Olympic qualification, his 8.21 metre leap was discounted for those purposes due to excessive wind, but his second best trial of 8.07 metres still exceeded the best of 8.06 that Mokoena could produce on the day.

“My coach and I had been discussing it during the week,” said Visser, “we knew I could jump around 8.20.  After (the competition) Khotso said ‘Congratulations’. He didn’t know what else to say.”

South Africa’s Junior 400m champion Justine Palframan fully looked the part when she led from gun to tape to add the senior title in a B standard time of 52.33 seconds and holding off a final straight charge from the highly experienced Estie Wittstock. Palframan has improved in both confidence and performance since her short but fruitful period of training in Jamaica and is being tipped for a podium place in the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona in July.  

Pistorius off the pace

Ambitions of Blade Runner Oscar Pistorius to become the national 400m champion came to nought as his much anticipated second half blast fizzled into seventh place in 47.28 behind Lebogang Moeng’s title performance of 45.75 seconds.

Semenya takes it at her ease; Mulaudzi tries to the end

The promised sub-two minute time from Caster Semenya failed to materialize as the former World 800m champion eased back after opening a reasonable pace for the first 200m, but soon was clearly going for the title and little else with her approach to the race where she crossed the line in 2:02.68.

By comparison in the men's race, fellow 2009 World champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi tried his utmost to make the required 1:45.50 mark with a final thrust for the line that saw him short by 0.18 seconds. Andre Olivier was second in 1:46.17 with Reinhardt van Rensburg closing out the podium in 1:46.36.  

Perennial 3000m Steeplechase champion Ruben Ramolefi was chased to the line-by Tumelo Motlagale but even with this push and a final 150m sprint the South African record holder could not pull out sufficient to make the qualifying mark of 8:23.10. As normal the 34-year-old went to the front from the gun dragging the field behind him with 1000m remaining it was down to the duo, with Ramolefi only just keeping his place in 8:24.48 to Motlagale’s 8:24.76.

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Norrie Williamson for the IAAF