Distance dreams of South African runner in tatters after Hamburg NN Mission move.

Lesibe Precious Mashele leads during a 5,000 m race in Stellenbosch on March 26, 2021. Photo: David Papenfus
Lesibe Precious Mashele (front) leads during a 5,000 m race on March26, 2021. Photo: David Papenfus

The marathon dreams of South Africa’s Lesiba Precious Mashele have been extinguished by a COVID-19 logistics nightmare at the very peak of his athletic powers. The Central Gauteng athlete was to take on the NN Mission Marathon in Hamburg on April 11 after brilliant recent 10,000m and 5,000 m performances and was hoping to get a late call-up for marathon duty at the Olympics.

News that the NN Mission Marathon has been postponed and moved to an alternative venue, together with travel restrictions placed on South Africans meant that Mashele was unable to obtain a visa to enter Germany.

A brilliant 10 000m in Durban on March 26 saw the Hendrik Ramaala-coached athlete shatter his personal best, dipping under 28 minutes in a superb 27:55, before he lined up with the likes of Stephen Mokoka and Mbuleli Mathanga for the 5000m in the final of the Endurocad track series at Stellenbosch last Monday.

Lesibe Precious Mashele (right) looking strong during a 5,000 m race on March 26, 2021. Photo: David Papenfus

Mashele upped the pace in the final stretch after Mokoka had made the early running to win by a second, ahead of Mathanga in an excellent 13:27,57, underlining his current form and readiness for a top-flight marathon debut. Mashele’s 10 000m time placed him 6th on South Africa’s all-time list while his 5000m time is 12th fastest of all time.

While delighted with his personal best times on the track, Mashele was clearly disappointed at missing out on an opportunity to race in Germany. “Unfortunately, I will have to wait a bit longer to run my first marathon,” Mashele said ruefully. “I felt great tonight and I’m ready to race a marathon, but the travel restrictions have made it impossible to get to Germany.”

Two top female marathoners from South Africa, however, may still be racing in Europe on 11 April. Gerda Steyn, currently the country’s leading female distance athlete, has confirmed her plans to race in the medieval town of Siena, near Florence in Italy.

Gerda Steyn after winning the Two Oceans Marathon action in 2019. Photo: Stephen Granger

“I have decided to change plans and run a marathon in Siena in Italy on the same day instead,” explained Steyn, whose current base in Dubai eases her travel arrangements to Europe. “Travelling to Italy is certainly easier, making it a better choice at this time.”

Steyn came within 16 seconds of Colleen de Reuck’s long-standing South African marathon record of 2:26:35 at a wind-swept London Marathon last October and it is no secret that the current Comrades Marathon champion is looking for a time in the low 2:20’s to boost her confidence ahead of the August Olympics in Japan.

LJ and Irvette van Zyl – double Olympian family. Photo: Stephen Granger

Pretoria athlete, Irvette van Zyl, was also scheduled to run in Hamburg and is hoping for a “Plan B” to enable her to translate her preparation into a fast marathon time.  “It’s really sad to miss out on Hamburg, but I’m working on getting a place in another marathon at the same time,” admitted Van Zyl. “I can’t give details at this stage, but I’m hoping it will work out.”

“I don’t know about getting that Olympic qualifying time – that would be a bonus – I’m just look for a solid marathon and hopefully personal best time.”

Story by Stephen Granger

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