East London Athletics Club is way older than any other in this region and in fact, there was a club of the same name that launched in July 1883 just one month after Queenstown Athletic Club.
There were in fact only five athletic clubs in the country at that stage as chronicled by Dewald Steyn in his documented history of the sport. One in each of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage made up the numbers.
The first ELAC – acronym for the club today – became defunct during World War 1 and it was only in 1935 that Trevor Gee and several of his athletic friends formed East London Amateur Athletic Club.
Included in the pioneers were Jock Muller, Ray Leadingham and Rob Symons who lived in King Williams Town.
The club started out with a strong track-and-field focus before cycling was added and became equally prominent.
Gee and others served during the Second World Way 1939-1945 and during that time the Jan Smuts gravel track was changed into hockey fields for women.
In 1950 the athletes were allocated a sight in Amalinda to establish both an athletic track and a cycling venue, which they did on the back of their own labour. Speaking to Gee this week he looked back with feeling for that era and rated the building thereof as a highlight which offered opportunities to socialise.
It was at this juncture that the club was able to host runners from Port Elizabeth for monthly track meetings over a weekend, where Sunday picnics became a part of proceedings and great friendships formed. “It does not happen today” Gee lamented.
A good number of international runners visited the city to compete, inclusive of German, British and American athletes.
Members other than Gee who excelled in that era and gained national recognition and colours included Bruce Phillips a superb sprinter, Jannie Breed, Kenny Davis and Des and Trevor Torr.
Amongst other marathon runners, Dave Kirby and Mike Warren stood out with meaningful wins.
As marathon running grew ever more popular from the mid-1970s and into the boom years of the eighties the likes of Stan Kruger, Gordon Shaw and Herman van der Wilt found their way to the podium.
Shorter distance races were slowly added and versatile athletes, many from cross country came to the fore in the red and white of ELAC. Elliot Valtyn, Ernest Alwin, Temba Boso, Rob Joiner, Sivuyile Dyalvane, Edgar Moyo, Fanekaya Banjatwa, Tony Viljoen, Mlamli Nkonkobe, Tembinkosi Bishop, Tony Jebese, Neville Burton and Brian Tiltman spring to mind.
In the early years of women’s marathon running Estelle Tiltman was one of only two on the provincial roads, but as the sport surged so too did the participation of an ELAC women’s brigade inclusive of Cynthia De Jager who dominated her age group, Bea Domoney who won dozens of races in hers and Paula Richardson too.
It is indeed a proud history and one that all can look back on with pride. It was a club that embraced the Ohlson’s Road Running league in the 1980s and 90’s claiming victory on more than one occasion, often from more fancied opponents.
Gee admits that “change” in the sport of athletics was not always easy for those from a pure athletic background and yet he, who has seen so much change, remains, at the age of 96 supportive of those who steer the ship today.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 85-year celebrations have been postponed until early 2021.