Lesotho Amateur Athletics Association (LAAA) public relations officer, Sejanamane Maphathe, is worried local runners could come short in the upcoming High Altitude Summer Marathon.
The event takes place in Mokhotlong on 5 December but Maphathe has expressed concern at the form of the country’s top athletes who have failed to dominate South African races over recent months.
Basotho had become the athletes to beat in South African events such as the Soweto and Two Oceans marathon, but have not been that dominant of late.
Top runners Lebenya Nkoka, Teboho Sello and Tšepang Ramonene could only manage fifth, seventh and eighth position in Sunday’s Soweto Marathon, which was won by Sintayehu LegeseYinesu of Ethiopia.
And according to Maphathe, he is worried East African athletes could take their dominance to next month’s High Altitude Summer Marathon, which is Lesotho’s premier race, whose winner pockets M100 000. Mabuthile Lebopo and Nkoka were the winners of the male category of the race over the last two years, while ‘Mamoroallo Tjoka reigned supreme in the female category. However, Tjoka would not be part of the race this year as she is suspended after testing positive for a banned drug in last year’s race.
“I think in this case, there are two issues troubling our athletes, having lost their dominance in big South African races,” Maphathe said.
“The first one is that in the past, it was just Lesotho and Zimbabwe vying for top positions, but the arrival of runners from East Africa has made it more difficult.
“Another thing is age is now catching up with most of our athletes who used to dominate South African races.”
Maphathe also lamented the absence of Tjoka, who was suspended two months ago after testing positive for a banned drug at the 2014 High Altitude Summer Marathon.
Tjoka is the only athlete to win the Soweto Marathon seven times and was always raising the country’s flag high in regional competitions.
“It’s very sad that Tjoka has been suspended because she was the one runner who always gave the Ethiopians and Kenyans a run for their money,” said Maphathe.
“I think there is serious need for us to work on our next generation of athletes now because Tjoka was going to retire someday, anyway.
“We are used to having at least one local winning the High Altitude Summer Marathon, but I think this will be under threat this year because even the winner of this year’s Soweto Marathon is a regular participant at the Mokhotlong race.”
Maphathe added: “We have a few runners who have shown potential in both the male and female categories, but it’s going to take them time to adjust and be as good as the likes of Tjoka and others.”