On Monday 20 May 1991 East Londoners woke up, toddled outside to collect their favourite early morning read to the front door, turned to the sports pages which splashed the news that yet another World Half Marathon best had been delivered on one of Africa’s fastest courses.
“Meyer sets new world record in East London” appeared on the Daily Dispatch front page too.
It continued “Elana Meyer smashed Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen’s world record for the half marathon by 32 seconds in winning the SA Championships in a time of 67:59.”
The Legends Marathon under the leadership of Luthando Bara, has quite correctly identified this and the feats of the men in 1987, when they set a world best of 60:11, as befitting of legendary status and that the men and women involved should be remembered with great pride.
As with all great and historical moments there are folk who perhaps do not quite get it and for those who were not there it probably all seems a little surreal.
The fact that no male or female has ever run faster on African soil than at these two outstanding races is something East London, Buffalo City and South Africa should embrace.
The one race took place 30 and the other 26 years ago.
Furthermore it was pretty much the same team that organised both races, with the implicit vision of delivering world records. It did not happen by chance, it was plotted and planned for. Most club level race organisers would have difficulty getting their minds around these outcomes due to the enormity of the effort. A number of the folk who were involved then are either passed on, or retired totally from the humdrum of the sport.
On 24 September when these two fantastic races are celebrated and a host of athletes held in high esteem for world beating, ground breaking performances we might also take a step back and doff our caps to those of Border and South African Road Running, along with the sponsors of the day, that made it all possible and then watched the athletes make it happen.
Athletes that included Matthews Temane, Zithulele Sinqe, Xolile Yawa, Jan Tau, Ernest Tjele, Simon Meli, David Tsebe, Willie Mtolo and our own Mzwandile Shube the first junior home in a new SA Record in 1987.
Running with Meyer in 1991 were Colleen de Reuck who was the SA record holder until that day, Ronel Scheepers, Blanche Moila, Sonja Laxton, Grace de Oliviera, Monica Drogemoller, Gwen van Rensburg and Border’s Lizanne Holmes amongst so many others.
It has been said, often by folk who were not there, that the course for the Legends 60:11 differs from the one used in 1987, as though that somehow discounts the fact that SA’s best ran those times in perfect conditions on that particular day – and by design. And then the women followed suit on a similar, though not identical route four years later. The one that IS being used for Legends.
The men on the day Elana Meyer stole the show were led home by Lawrence Peu, himself a fantastic athlete. Peu ran a PB 60:58, which at that stage was just 12 seconds off the best time run internationally for a half marathon, though no one had come close to Temane’s time of 60:11.
It is to that time that homage is being paid. Neither Meyer nor Peu featured in the 1987 race and the women’s version was won by Colleen de Reuck in 73:42.
So which course was faster? The men were 47 seconds slower on the latter one and the women were 5min 43 seconds quicker in 1991 than they were in 1987.
We spoke to a local man, who chooses not to be named, but who has firsthand knowledge of all the athletes involved, both courses, the weather conditions on the two days in question and perhaps most importantly the marketing and hype associated with the two races. He says “on the day the results delivered at both events were achieved by desire. Not of just the athletes, but from all involved in the staging and delivery of two world class events that Buffalo City can be immensely proud of.