Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Zola Budd Is Back in Britain and Back in the Running

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Zola Budd Is Back in Britain and Back in the Running

Article excerpt


WHEN you've competed in the Olympics at the tender age of 17, and run the gauntlet of antiapartheid protests, the British Open 10km Road Race should be a piece of cake.

But Zola Pieterse - the South African runner better known here by her old surname of Budd - is distinctly nervous.

Zola, now 35 and a mother of three, has just arrived in London for the event on Sunday. It will be the first time she has raced on British soil since the Great Northern Run in 1993.

South-African-born Zola is clearly a very different person from the one who sparked controversy when she ran for Britain in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984. With a British grandfather, she was granted a UK passport allowing her to take part. But her hugely vocal opponents claimed the move was simply one of convenience and that she had only got the passport because of her running ability.

She then found herself the focus of antiapartheid protests - and seemed to confound them by her refusal to condemn the South African regime. But she now says: "People didn't then and still don't believe me when I say that, in South Africa, we were all completely in the dark about what was going on. We were like mushrooms - I didn't even know who Nelson Mandela was until I came here."

Her unpopularity was sealed when she collided with her rival, Mary Decker-Slaney, causing the American to trip and smashing her dream of Olympic gold. But Zola is putting the past behind her.

She said: "It all happened a long time ago and I have moved on - I had to.

Just as South Africa has changed, so have I.

"I just want to draw a line underneath the whole episode, but sometimes it just seems as if people won't let me. When I left Great Britain, after everything that had happened, I was initially very reluctant to come back.

"It's only in the last few years that I have felt more comfortable about it.

But I am still a bit anxious about how people will react."

After capturing the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the Eighties, Zola returned to her native country, got married and has kept a low profile ever since. …

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