by Stephen Granger

East African runners are the best in the world and they have dominated the Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 12km and its predecessors since its inauguration in 2015. Sunday’s race again brings the best of the east and south together in Cape Town. Photo Tobias Ginsberg

They’re fit and they’re fast and they’re flying south, soon to hit the streets of Cape Town at high speed to engage in battle for control of the city and the title of Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 10km champion.

The east African contingent to take part in Cape Town’s popular ‘Sea to City’ 10km dash on Sunday is every bit as intimidating as their predecessors, who set high standards for the race. The former 12km distance has been shortened to the more globally competitive 10km this year, but the speed remains at top gear.

Kenyan Emmanuel Bett started the proceedings by outdipping compatriot Daniel Salel on the finish line to win the inaugural Cape Town 12km race in 2015, just one second outside the world best time, which fell two years later when another Kenyan, Morris Gachaga, clocked 33:27 to win the first of his three victories.

Emmanuel Bett pips Daniel Salel on the line to win in 2015 – Photo courtesy Run Your City Series

South African athletes came out on top in 2016 when Stephen Mokoka again relegated Salel to second place in a last-gasp finish and Elroy Gelant bagged third, but two years later athletes from Kenya, Uganda and Eritrea filled the top eight places. Mokoka was first South African in 2018, finishing 9th.

Stephen Mokoka outsprints top Kenyan Daniel Salel in a thrilling finish in the 2016 Cape Town race – Photo Stephen Granger

Mokoka, consistently South Africa’s leading distance athlete in the past decade, was back to his best the following year, competing fiercely to take third behind Gachaga and Ugandan Abdallah Mande.  Ebenyo led the charge last November, following a year’s COVID-related absence, clocking an impressive 34:01 in a wind-affected race, staying ahead after his accustomed fast start and leaving compatriot Isaac Kipkemboi and Mokoka to fight out the minor podium places in a sprint finish.

Kenyan Morris Gachaga signals three out of three victories in Cape Town after his win in the 2019 race – Photo Stephen Granger

The ebullient Ebenyo also let his feet do the talking in Valencia, Spain, in January this year, winning a world-class 10km in 26 min 58 sec, currently the 10th fastest time on the planet. Remarkably five of the top ten times, including that of Ebenyo, were set this year in the post-COVID racing frenzy and Ebenyo intends to use Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 10km to make further inroads into fellow-Kenyan running sensation Rhonex Kipruto’s 26:24 world best. Interestingly, just a 9 second improvement would move him up to fourth ahead of another Kenyan, former world half marathon record holder, Kibiwott Kandie.

Daniel Simiu Ebenyo wins 2021 Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN 12km – Photo Mark Sampson

“I know I am in great shape after going sub-27 recently and I am looking for nothing less than another fast time and victory,” said Ebenyo. “I want to defend my title. I know the field is deep with Isaac Kipkemboi and Stephen Mokoka (last year’s runners-up) returning and if I want to win, I will need to run fast.”

Fast running this Sunday is one thing you can bank on. Kipkemboi returns following his solid 7th place in 1:01:38 in the N Solay Istanbul Half Marathon two months back – he gained an invitation to the elite event on the basis of his performance in Cape Town last November – while Ethiopian Moses Tuemay completes the formidle east African trio.

The 24-year-old Tuemay ran 60:11 for the Naples Half Marathon in Italy just three months back, a significant time in South African distance-running as it equals the then world best time run by South Africans Zithulele Sinqe and Matthews Temane in the famous East London dead-heat in 1987.

Meaning business – Two of South Africa’s all time greats, Stephen Mokoka and Elroy Gelant, will be back with intent on Sunday – Photo Stephen Granger

Talking of South African greats, the best in the land south of the Limpopo River will line up on Saturday, determined not to be intimidated by their east African counterparts. Only two South Africans have ever run faster than 28 minutes – Mokoka with his national record of 27:38, achieved in Manchester in 2015, and Shadrack Hoff in 2002 (27:50) – but several lining up on Sunday will be doing their best to join them. 

Olympians Precious Mashele (28:11) and national 5000m record holder, Elroy Gelant (28:18), as well as Mbuleli Mathanga (28:13) look most likely to challenge for a spot on the podium.  But a crop of talented athletes, including 21-year-old Maxime Chaumeton (28:30), 20-year-old Nicholas Seoposengwe (28:42), Anthony Timoteus (Cape Town’s fastest in the field at 28:46), the more experienced Desmond Mokgobu (28:48) and Thabang Mosiako (28:56) have a perfect opportunity to move up the rankings.

Precious Mashele – aiming to beat the 28 minute barrier on Sunday – Photo Anthony Grote

The Johannesburg-based contingent are fortunate to have South African distance-running legend, Hendrick Ramaala, in their corner and the former New York City champion and now leading coach believes a number of his charges will run close to 28 minutes on Sunday, if the weather permits.

“Precious (Mashele), Maxime (Chaumeton) and Nicholas (Seoposengwe) finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in the 5000m at the national track championships last month and are all looking in good shape. They can run close to 28 minutes if they run according to plan. And Desmond (Mokgobu) as well.”

Weather forecasts indicate a calm race day, but the predicted 11- 13 degrees could prove too cold for perfect performances. “That’s good for a marathon,” Ramaala reflected. “But we are hoping for at least 15 – 16 degrees for a fast 10km. The guys start so fast, so if it’s too cold it will be tough.”

Mashele, who has beaten Mokoka in a number of national road championships in recent years, admits that running in Cape Town has served him well in the past and he enjoys returning to the race which brings him “joy and happiness in my heart”.

“The reason I love Cape Town is that it is a peaceful place which I connect with a lot,” Mashele said. “It’s very beautiful and everything is accessible – the winelands in the mountains, the fish markets, the Company Gardens and parks and many other places which make Cape Town a famous tourist capital. And we will celebrating Cape Town’s cultural diversity at the race on Sunday.”

Southern-Cape raised Gelant echoes Mashele’s passion for the race. “I’m really looking forward to this magnificent race,” said Gelant. “The Cape Town vibe is special and the Kaapse Klopse will be there on the day. I started running it in 2016 so it’s close to my heart.

The Cape Town vibe at the Absa RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN brings Elroy Gelant back each year – Photo Stephen Granger

“I build confidence from the Run Your City runs for my European season. In 2016 I had a brilliant run with Stephen Mokoka and a week after that I broke the South African 5000m record,” recalled Gelant. “Preparations have gone really well. I think we South Africans must do what we don’t often do and communicate with each other before race day.

“It’s important not to go out too fast, as Daniel Ebenyo is likely to do. If we pass 5km in 14 min and stick to that game plan we can have a very solid race and pick up some places towards the end. I’m in good spirits, my body is feeling good and I’m positive!”

On the women’s front it looks no less impressive.  2018 Commonwealth Games 10 000m gold medallist, Stella Chesang of Uganda, returns to the Mother City after finishing a close second to Kenyan Brillian Kipkoech in 2019.  In 2018 Chesang won the Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10K race, clocking 31:14 to set a Ugandan national record.

Stella Chesang tracks fellow Kenyan Jackline Chepngeno in the 2018 race. Chesang is one of the favourites on Sunday photo credit Tobias Ginsberg

Two fellow-Kenyans – 2017 Absa RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10km winner, Mercyline Chelangat, and last year’s RUN YOUR CITY CAPE TOWN champion, Jesca Chelangat, will be challenging Chesang for line honours while last year’s runner-up Lesotho athlete, Neheng Khatala, will also likely be in the mix up front.

Two South Africans at opposite ends of their careers will be looking to run their foreign visitors close on Sunday. Pretoria-based triple Olympian, Irvette van Zyl, is no stranger to the Cape Town race, boasting an impressive 12km win in 2016. After a superb Two Oceans Marathon last month, where she broke Frith van der Merwe’s long-standing record, but placed second to Gerda Steyn, she will be looking to improve her 32:06 personal best time by at least 7 seconds to drop below the 32-minute barrier.

Irvette van Zyl wins over 12km in Cape Town in 2016 – Photo Stephen Granger

If Van Zyl is in the twilight of her career, Durban-based Tayla Kavanagh is just getting started, but her 32:10 at last October’s RUN YOUR CITY DURBAN 10km, only ever bettered by four South Africans, gave notice of her vast potential.  A sub-32 minute performance is a betting certainty for Kavanagh sooner or later and if all goes well, Sunday could prove to be the day.

Two strong contenders for Sunday, Neheng Khatala and Tayla Kavanagh, at the 2021 Absa RYC DURBAN 10 km – Photo Tobias Ginsberg

Athletes on Sunday will be chasing a share of the R290 000 prize money on offer, with first male and female across the line pocketing R30 000 apiece. Cash prizes spread to the top fifteen as well as top three in the age-group categories.

The elite runners get underway from Milnerton, opposite Woodbridge Island, at 09h00 with the last batch starting 33 minutes later.