Modern Athlete Magazine Issue 162 October 2023 | Page 28


Riga Reflections

Stephen Mokoka , Thabang Mosiako , and Elroy Gelant in the lead pack of the men ’ s half
The new ( well , almost new ) World Road Running Championships took place this month , and besides heralding an exciting new chapter in global road running , the event proved a hugely successful outing for Team South Africa . – BY RIËL HAUMAN & SEAN FALCONER

The day started at 10am with a mass 5km and ended with a half marathon at 2:30pm , with the elites in their national colours setting off just ahead of thousands of ‘ Average Joe ’ runners from all around the world , also playing their part in the new World Road Running Championships on 1 October in the Latvian capital city of Riga .

This was the start of a new chapter in global road running , with this 25th edition of the World Half Marathon Champs now renamed and revamped to include not only two additional distances of 5km and the street mile , but also featuring mass participation races that allowed some 7000 fans to actually be part of the action and enjoy their own World Champs experience , alongside ( or just behind ) their heroes .
Traditional Frontrunners
Kenya dominated proceedings with five gold medals ( and 12 in total ), sweeping the podiums in both the men ’ s and women ’ s half marathons . Olympic Marathon Champion Peres Jepchirchir won her third World Half Marathon title ( joining Paula Radcliffe , Tegla Loroupe and Lornah Kiplagat , who have also achieved this feat ). However , Kenya also provided
the biggest shock of the meeting , when the hitherto invincible Faith Kipyegon , who has set three World Records on the track in 2023 , was beaten into third in the mile . ( Granted , it was her very first road race ).
World records fell in both mile races , with Diribe Welteji ( Ethiopia ) winning the women ’ s event in 4:20.98 and a surprising win for Hobbs Kessler ( USA ) in the men ’ s race in 3:56.13 . Both won an extra US $ 50,000 for their efforts . Kessler , who in 2021 broke Jim Ryun ’ s 55-year-old US Junior Record for 1500m , put his huge payday into perspective : “ I just bought a house two weeks ago , so now I have some money for furniture ,” he said .
In the women ’ s 5km Beatrice Chebet won her second World Title of the year , after also taking the World Cross Country crown in February in Australia ( and she took the bronze medal in the World Championships 5000m in August ). Running a solid tactical race , Chebet won in 14:35 , equalling the world ’ s fastest time of the year .
Proudly South African
South Africa ’ s athletes acquitted themselves very well in the Riga . The men won the bronze medal in the
Thabang Mosiako was SA ’ s best finisher in the men ’ s 21km with a sixth place
Team SA on the half marathon team podium for the first time since 1999
team competition ( only the half marathon had team scoring ) behind Kenya and Ethiopia . This is South Africa ’ s first medal in the competition since the team gold medals in 1998 and 1999 ( and team silver in 1997 ). In the women ’ s team race , the South Africans came home a tantalising 11 seconds short of the bronze medal . Meanwhile , on the overall points table , South Africa finished sixth , one point behind the USA and Great Britain .
Outstanding among the SA half marathon men were national champion Thabang Mosiako ( 6th ) and Elroy Gelant ( 13th ). Mosiako finished in 59:52 to become only the second South African to dip under an hour on a record-eligible course , placing him third on the alltime list of SA performers . His time is the fifth-fastest ever ( third on a record-eligible course ) by a South African . The only other South African under an hour on a standard course , SA Record-holder Stephen Mokoka , finished 11th in 1:00:29 ( the third-fastest time of his career ). Gelant ran a superb PB of 1:00:56 , at the age of 37 , to move into equal tenth on the alltime list , with the equal 17th-fastest time on a recordlegal course . ( Hendrick Ramaala , who led South Africa to those gold medals in 1998 and 1999 , with a second overall place each time , is first on the all-time list with his aided 59:20 in 2000 .)
Images : Lauris Viksne / World Athletics , Guntis Berzins / World Athletics , Norrie Williamson
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