Fresh off a personal best set in the Cape Town Marathon over 10km a week ago, Lesotho’s Namakoe Nkhasi brushed aside the challenge of three Olympians to win the inaugural FNB Joburg 10K City Run yesterday.
About 11 000 participants celebrated Heritage Day by running through the streets of Johannesburg’s city centre.
The 23-year-old Nkhasi crossed the finishing line at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown in a blistering 29 minutes and 48 seconds – ahead of Kenya’s Edwin Koech, who came in with a time of 30:07, and Sibusiso Nzima (30:10) in third place.
The race was billed as a showdown between Olympian archrivals Stephen Mokoka, Elroy Gelant and Nzima.
Mokoka had participated in the 10 000m in Rio in August, while Gelant reached the finals of the 5 000m. Nzima represented South Africa in the marathon in Rio.
However, yesterday it was Nkhasi who had too much firepower for the others.
“When we started to climb, just before the 5km mark, I could see that the guys were not strong enough to go with me, so I pushed from there.
“Only Edwin [Koech] was able to stay with me. I knew I was strong after my personal best last week [28:28], so when we turned up Rissik Street, and [into] Joubert Street, I surged again and Edwin was not able to go with me,” Nkhasi said.
As expected, Nzima – who finished second in Cape Town behind Namakoe – went straight to the front, pushing the pace.
Within 2km, the lead pack had been whittled down to 10 runners, including Nzima (out in front), Mokoka, Gelant, Namakoe, Koech, Joel Mmone and Philemon Mathiba.
The women’s race, as expected, was between the twins Lebo and Lebogang Phalula and Zimbabwe’s Rutendo Nyahora.
In the end, it was the strength of Lebogang Phalula that proved the deciding factor.
The 32 year-old had completed her debut marathon a week earlier in Cape Town, finishing third.
There were very real concerns about whether she would be rested enough for yesterday’s race.
However, her hard work paid off and she went into a lead of six seconds over her sister and Nyahora at the 5km mark (17:36).
At the 7.5km mark, the gap was substantial. Lebogang went through the three-quarter mark in 27:11 and made full use of the final 2km of downhill running to win in 35:33.
“When I saw Lebo and Rutendo driving hard in the beginning, I just sat,” said Lebogang.
“When we started to climb before the 5km mark, I saw that they were struggling. I knew that I was stronger than them on the hills, and it was then that I started to push,” the runner said.
“I am really happy to win here today, as both my sister and Rutendo beat me over 10km,” she added.
Both the men and women’s race winners walked off with a cheque of R20 000.