Being an avid Comrades Marathon admirer for most of my life, I can clearly recall the special memories this race has produced over the years. Being in sporting isolation at the time, it was hard not to get carried away with Bruce Fordyce’s domination of the race in the Eighties which included a remarkable nine wins.
The memorable moments continued with Sam Tshabalala becoming the first black winner, Frith van der Merwe being the first woman to dip under six hours and the legendary Wally Hayward becoming the oldest finisher when he snuck in for a bronze with two minutes to spare at the grand old age of 80.
Although South Africans haven’t had the lion’s share between Durban and Pietermaritzburg since then, it does little to detract from the wonderful memories of watching Russian Leonid Shvetsov setting new ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ records, and compatriot Elena Nurgalieva working her way to eight victories.
A few years ago after Claude Moshiywa’s victory, I read that he was the first South African to win the ‘’up’’ run since Jetman Msutu in 1992. In all due respect, my first response was: Jetman who? I panicked, thinking that my memory had gone. How was it possible that I could recall all the champions crossing the fabled finish line over the years, but not this guy? Good old Google soon put me at ease.
Jetman was declared the winner after initial champion Charl Mattheus was stripped of the title following a positive doping test. Yes, the record book does show that Msutu and not Mattheus won the race, but what happened in the immediate aftermath of the race will never change. Mattheus was the one breaking the tape on the picture with spectators shouting inside the stadium.
He was the one receiving the winner’s medal at the ceremony and he was the one smiling on front and back pages all throughout the country on the Monday. The same thing could happen to Caster Semenya after the Russian athletics doping bombshell. Two of Semenya’s gold medals could in fact be upgraded to gold.
The one from the World Championships in Daegu in 2011 and one from the London Olympics in 2012, after the winner of both these races, Russian Mariya Savinova, is implicated in the damning doping report. This will give Semenya a phenomenal record. It would mean that overnight she would become a two-time world champ, who successfully defended her crown, and the Olympic champion.
But yet, she is not jumping for joy. ‘‘I ran the Olympics and I won the silver medal, so I can’t celebrate anything other than my silver, even if they crown me Olympic champion. It wouldn’t mean anything to me. It would be great for my country but for me, as an athlete, I cannot entertain that thought,’’ Semenya said this week.
‘‘Whether she doped or not, I came second and that will never change.’’ She’s hit the nail on the head. Like in the case of Jetman Msutu, there was another winner in London despite my screaming and yelling and jumping up and down on the couch to urge Semenya on that cold Saturday night back in August 2012.
Across our land we rued her loss, in millions of households we watched her receive the silver gong while bitching that she left her big surge so late.
Soon her tactics could be vindicated. Soon she could enter the annals of athletics as the legal winner of that race … and yet it means so little now. Damn these bloody dopers. Even when they’re caught, they still spoil everything.