When Stephen Mokoka won the 2018 Cape Town Marathon in a course record time of 2hr 08min 07sec, it ended an eight-year wait for a SA winner.  

He will not be back to defend his title as he is preparing for the forthcoming World Championship in Doha, opening the door for the East African contingent to once again dominate Africa’s sole IAAF Gold Label Status Marathon.

The 42km race starts on Sunday at the Waterfront and ends at Cape Town Stadium.

Kenya’s Kipkemoi Kipsang, who finished fourth in 2018, looks the man to beat now that his countryman Peter Some has withdrawn.

Ethiopia’s Tariku Kinfu is set to launch a strong challenge, while another trio of Kenyans Edwin Kibet, Paul Maina and Samuel Theuri Mwaniki will be out to upset the applecart, all with times of under 2:10.

Abdi Fufa (Ethiopia) and Motlokoa Mkhabutlane (Lesotho) throw their names in the hat, while Elroy Gelant is SA’s best hope for a medal. However he will not have much support, which makes his task more difficult knowing that the foreign contingent will be running as a group shutting out potential threats in their bid for one of their own to go all the way.

Gelant is a proven performer over the half marathon distance but might yet surprise friend and foe, says race ambassador Elana Van Zyl-Meyer.

“I would love to see him do well. It was fantastic to see Stephen [Mokoka] win last year’s race in record time, he’s not back to defend, so Elroy carries the flag for the locals and I know he’s coming into the race with serious intentions,” she said.

“But it’s going to be a tough ask for him when you consider he’s still learning the trade over the distance. He would need to make a big step-up from his debut run.

“It would be a bonus if he wins. You never know what could happen over the distance, things can happen at any time and one has to just hang in there and hope things map out the way you planned.”

Van Zyl-Meyer feels the men’s race is an open affair and is not going to stick her neck out. “What I do know is the course is flat and fast and in perfect condition, I expect to see a good race,” she said.

“As far as the women’s field is concerned, Helalia Johannes [Namibia] isn’t back to defend her title won in record time (2:29:28), but we’ve got a stronger field than previous years and there are at least three serious contenders for line honours when you check their times that are well under two and a half hours.

“Celestine Chepchirchir [Kenya], Abeda-Tekulu Gebremeskel [Ethiopia] and Janet Jelagat Rono [Kenya] look to be the main contenders with Mercy Jerotich Kibarus [Kenya]. Sadly, from a SA perspective, there are no real challengers.”

Meyer says the race has grown in stature over the years and the aim is to gain Platinum Status.

“When we earned Gold Status, it was a first for Africa. But we want to up the ante and see SA play host to a world class marathon, and for that to happen would require a stronger overseas entry among other requirements that we are working on.”