South Africa’s men’s marathon team of Melikhaya Frans, Simon Sibeko and Tumelo Motlagale were the nation’s only athletes in action on the last day of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Sunday. Hopes were high that they could do well, after Frans finished 18th with a fast PB at the last World Championships in Oregon, but the Budapest heat took its toll on the trio.
Motlagale was the fastest on the day, finishing in 51st place in 2:22:14, with Sibeko the last runner to cross the finish in 60th in 2:31:59. Frans decided to withdraw from the race after 30km, and was one of a total of 23 athletes that failed to finish in the scorching conditions.
After the race, which was won by Uganda’s Victor Kiplangat in 2:08:53, Motlagale explained: “The conditions were very brutal, but we had to get to the end and finish the race. I started feeling [the heat] after 25km. It was pretty good at the start of the race, but after the 25 mark, that’s when it started to rise and we started feeling the heat.”
Speaking about the fact that the South Africans all ran their own races rather than working as a team, Motlagale added: “We did have a team talk towards the beginning of the race, but sometimes the race just unfolds [differently]… We don’t really train together, so during the race, the plan starts to scatter around, and everybody decides to go on their own plan. If we were together maybe two months or three months before, maybe the race plan could have been a bit different and we could have run as a team.”
After dropping out of the race around the 30km mark, Frans said: “It was so tough for me. The first 5km my body didn’t respond very well. I didn’t know what was happening, but I tried my best and I said to myself, no, I want to go to the finishing line.”
“After 30km my body was giving up and I told myself, this is enough, I can’t suffer… Let me not finish it, because I was really struggling. I wanted to finish the race, but I saw I was not running, I was walking. It’s like my inside was running, but my outside body was not running. Then I said, no, let me not finish it, because my body is not feeling well.”
With no South Africans competing in the final session on Sunday night, it meant the team finished a third consecutive World Athletics Championships with no medals. However, local fans of the sport were still treated to another scintillating day’s action, culminating with the Dutch taking a fantastic come-from-behind win in the women’s 4x400m relay, with Femke Bol going from a distant third to narrow first in a home straight sprint for the line as she anchored her team home. Jamaica had to settle for the silver medal, with the British team taking bronze.
This came after Bol had fallen just short of the line in the mixed 4x400m relay in the opening days of the World Champs, and lost the baton in the process, thus going from sprinting for the gold medal to not officially finishing the race. However, she bounced back strongly to take the gold medal in the 400m hurdles race, then claimed a second gold with the relay team, and her sheer joy after the last race of the meet seemed a fitting way to wrap up an incredible week’s action.
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