/ 7 May 2021

Semenya magic rubs off on Glenrose Xaba

Athletics Gauteng North Championship
Winners: Glenrose Xaba beat Caster Semenya (right), in the 5 000m at the Gauteng North championship in late March. Semenya retained her title in April in the SA athletics championships. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Running with a new personal best in mind, Glenrose Xaba won the SA Half Marathon title ahead of silver medallist Gerda Steyn and third-placed Irvette van Zyl, in a time only bettered by Elana Meyer and Colleen de Reuck back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The first local to cross the finish line in Gqeberha on Saturday, Xaba claimed the gold medal just four seconds short of her personal best of 1:09:26, which she achieved at the World Half Marathon in Poland in October.

The Boxer Athletics Club runner is dominating the domestic running space; she holds the 10km cross-country, 10km road running and 10 000m track titles.

The media-shy 27-year-old from Embalenhle in Secunda, Mpumalanga, is backed by a band of fierce supporters led by double Olympic gold medallist and three-time world champion over 800m, Caster Semenya, who believes that Xaba’s best still lies ahead.

Semenya beamed when she spoke about her prodigy: “Glenrose is a very dedicated athlete. She is good at communicating and is a hard worker. She is someone that is hungry to be in this game and wants to achieve her goals. We need to set milestones for her.”

Semenya, South Africa’s golden girl, has been mentoring Xaba since 2019, when she stepped up to the half marathon stage and won the national 21km title in her debut ASA Half-Marathon.

Xaba continued her impressive performances when she clocked the fastest time by a South African woman in 18 years, finishing fifth overall in the women’s race at the Buenos Aires Half Marathon in Argentina, the first black South African woman and the third South African woman after Meyer and De Reuck to dip under 70 minutes.

She didn’t disappoint after representing South Africa at the World Half Marathon in Poland last year, achieving her current personal best.

Those close to Xaba believe that she has what it takes to break the 68-minute mark, and even go as far as breaking Meyer’s long-standing national record of 66.44.

“She has a great future,” said Semenya. “We are looking into building her to become a great and successful distance runner.”

Semenya runs the Masai Athletics Club with her wife, Violet, an accomplished runner herself, who Xaba credits for her early successes.

“I started with Caster in 2019,” said Xaba, “and I am so grateful to be mentored by her. But the person that has always been there for me, is Violet. She was the one pushing me to work hard and focus until I got to the point of winning the Spar Grand Prix in 2018.

“I am blessed to have these two amazing women in my life because I know I am in good hands.”

For Xaba, it is all about achieving her next personal best, but while those around her are talking her up, she is playing down Olympic talk.

“So far, I am not thinking about the Olympics. I just want to enjoy track and improve my times, especially in the 5 000m event. If I happen to run a qualifying time, I would be happy to achieve that.”