Stephen Mokoka: My best marathon performance is yet to come

Stephen Mokoka: My best marathon performance is yet to come

Despite competing at the highest level in marathons for 15 years, South Africa’s renowned long-distance runner Stephen Mokoka believes he is yet to reach his peak.

The 39-year-old debuted in the Olympics in 10 000m event in Brazil in 2016 and did not complete the 42.2km marathon in Tokyo in 2020.

Last year, he ran a remarkable qualifying time of 2:06:10. Mokoka aims for a top-10 finish on 10 August in Paris, just a day before the conclusion of the Games.   

"We look at the history of the Olympics, Stefano Baldini won the Olympics at the age of 38. Khalid [Skah] from Morrocco ran 59 minutes at the age of 39. My coach and my manager always says 'In Marathon you age but you never get out because you reach your optimum level at a specific age',” Mokoka said.

“So, I think I'm not yet in my prime. I think the next Olympics I might be there depending on my performance at that time if my body responds okay. The tough part about aging is that the body does not recover quickly. So, I have to be able to take care of my body in a certain way and I have to train in a certain way but I know I trust my coach and hopefully, we do things the right way but I think at this point in time, it's the opportunity that I have now."

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Locally, Mokoka is regarded as a legend being the most decorated runner with three Cape Town marathon titles, including the SA Marathon, Shanghai, and World 50km ultra-Marathon titles, among others.

However, he does not see himself that way and considers himself a developing runner.

"Because I can't label myself a legend, what if tomorrow I'm going to get an Olympic medal? What will I call myself? That's the first part,” he added.

“The second part is that I always want to be unique in everything I do, that's how my mode of action speaks in its own right. I look at the history of marathon running, I'm actually the only athlete who has ever run sub10, more than 10 times but I don't think that's enough because I've set a certain bar for myself."