Legendary barefoot marathon and long-distance runner, South African Zola Budd Pieterse, has been stripped of her Comrades Marathon 2014 veteran title following accusations that she did not display the required age category tag. Budd, who lives in South Carolina in the U.S. has challenged the decision saying she is hugely disappointed and hopes her first prize will be reinstated. The ruling strips her of the R12,000 ($1,120) veteran’s prize, though she keeps the R25,000 ($2,332) prize for coming seventh in the woman’s race, as well as her gold medal.
The Comrades Marathon, launched in May 1921 is the oldest and largest of all the world’s ultra-marathons. Since May 1921 the race has been run annually (except during the Second World War) over a distance of about 56 miles or 90 km between Durban (on the KwaZulu-Natal coast of South Africa) and the province’s inland city of Pietermaritzburg. The first race took place on May 24 with 34 competitors running from the Pietermaritzburg City Hall to the Durban City Hall. The next year began in Durban and ended in Pietermaritzburg – an up-down tradition that has continued to this day, with the 2014 so-called “down” race ending in Durban.
This year a total number of 18,000 runners competed in the prestigious race that draws entries from all over the world. Ultimate winner of this year’s men’s race was South African Bongmusa Mthembu who made it in a time of 5:28:34. Six other South Africans were placed in the top ten, with two Zimbabweans placed fourth and ninth, and Swedish marathon runner, Jonas Budd placed seventh. Eleanor Greenwood, a British athlete living in Canada, clinched the women’s race in a time of 6:18:15, with three Russians hard on her heels, including identical twin sisters Elena and Olesya Nurgalieva who, between them, have won the women’s race 11 times in the past 13 years.
This year only four South Africans, including Zola Budd who has dual SA and British nationality, were placed in the top ten.
About Zola Budd
Zola Budd, aged 48, first rose to fame in her home country as a teenager in the early 1980s when she broke numerous middle distance running records barefoot. She was still at school and they all ran barefoot on the field and track, she says. However, when running on the road she always wore shoes.
At the time she was not able to compete on the international stage because of South Africa’s infamous Apartheid policies. Because of this situation, her father, with the help of the British Daily Mail newspaper, succeeded in getting Zola British citizenship because her grandfather was born in the United Kingdom. This allowed her to qualify for the 3,000-meter (7.5 lap) race in the British team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. In a dramatic turn of events, Zola Budd and the race favorite, American Mary Decker, collided (see picture above) causing Mary Decker to crash to the ground – and resulted in Zola Budd being booed by the crowd along with an initial disqualification that was later reversed. It was, says Budd, “a nightmare come true,” even though Becker later conceded publicly that it had been her own fault and not Budd’s.
Zola Budd continued running for Britain through the 1980s, setting new records and achieving a number of titles that included European 3,000-meter champion in 1985. She competed in the Olympics held in Barcelona, Spain in 1992. Zola Budd ran her first Comrades Marathon just two years ago, in 2012, the longest race she had ever run – bearing in mind she’s a medium-distance rather than long-distance runner. This year she dedicated her marathon run to Pierre Korkie, a South African who has been held hostage in Yemen for more than a year. He was a former coach of hers. Ironically, she ran with a yellow ribbon on her vest in honor of Korkie, but did not have the required age category tag on her vest.
Zola Budd’s Age Category Tag Dispute
When she discovered she had been stripped of her veteran winner Comrades’ title last week, Zola Budd was livid, saying she had won the title “fair and square.” Ray de Vries, her manager said it was very unfair because, even though she was competing as a South African, the marathon runner had been issued with an international number that had the age category included on the race number that was issued. At the end of the day, Australian Tina Major claimed the veteran category prize event though she finished nearly 16 minutes after Zola Budd.
By Penny Swift