South Africa’s Stephen Mokoka defying age, eyeing olympic success in Paris


As Stephen Mokoka approaches his 39th birthday, the distance running stalwart is far from slowing down. His journey, which began with a humble 5km fun run win in 2003, has now set its sights on a remarkable goal: competing in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Back in 2008, a young Mokoka, who initially had his sights set on football, envisioned retiring at the age of 38. However, under the guidance of his manager, Andries Lessing, and his coach, Michael Seme, Mokoka’s career took a different trajectory. Lessing believed Mokoka had the potential to excel in marathons, a prophecy that proved true as Mokoka made his marathon debut and has since participated in at least one marathon annually, achieving a personal best of 2:06:42 in Osaka last year.

The Paris Olympics hold a special significance for Mokoka. It’s not just another race; it’s his 22nd senior global championship appearance and potentially his fourth Olympic Games. This milestone is a testament to his remarkable consistency and longevity in a sport known for its grueling demands. His journey includes a world record in the 50km event, a world half marathon medal, and an African championship in the 10,000m in 2016, which he considers a standout performance in his career.

Mokoka’s path wasn’t straightforward. His transition from football to running was fueled by practical needs and a bit of luck – winning a bike in a fun run and receiving a pair of Nike shoes in a schools competition. These events, coupled with his relentless dedication and discipline, propelled him into the world of professional running. At the Vaal University of Technology, he met his coach Michael Seme, who has been instrumental in his development as an athlete.

Mokoka’s career is a blend of strategic choices and raw talent. He deliberately paced his progression from track to road and cross country, ensuring he didn’t rush into marathons. This strategic approach, coupled with his innate resilience, has enabled him to maintain top form for over a decade. His philosophy of “less competition, less intense running, and less pressure” has been crucial in maintaining his performance levels.

Despite his success, Mokoka remains grounded and focused. He attributes his success to a strong support system, including his family and management team, and emphasizes the importance of patience, discipline, and dedication in a running career. His message to aspiring runners is clear: choose your path wisely, focus on training, and be patient for good things to come.

As Mokoka gears up for Paris, his preparations are not just about physical training. He understands the need for acclimatization to different conditions, as evidenced by his experience in the marathon at the Sapporo Olympics and his successful adaptation for the Doha marathon. His recent second-place finish in the Hong Kong Marathon is part of this strategic preparation for Paris.

Mokoka’s story is one of unexpected turns, strategic choices, and unyielding passion for the sport. As he looks towards Paris, he’s not just aiming for personal glory; he’s an embodiment of resilience, a beacon of inspiration for athletes worldwide, and a living example that with the right mindset, dedication, and support, the possibilities in sport are limitless. Paris is not just another race for Mokoka; it’s a symbol of his marathon of a career, a career that defies conventional boundaries and continues to inspire

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