ZOLA PIETERSE (NÉE BUDD), 51

For­mer world cross-coun­try cham­pion, mul­ti­ple SA cham­pion, Com­rades fin­isher

Runner's World South Africa - - Heroes Who Inspire -

ZOLA PIETERSE and I were both born in 1966, and I raced against her of­ten. Even as a 14-year-old she was run­ning world-class times. Zola ap­plied for Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship to by­pass the in­ter­na­tional sport­ing boy­cott of South Africa, so that she could com­pete in the 1984 Sum­mer Olympics in Los Angeles. Her ap­pli­ca­tion and ar­rival were con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause she had ac­quired a pass­port un­der pref­er­en­tial cir­cum­stances.

At the time, Zola was only 18 – and she’s also an in­tro­vert, so it must’ve been ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult for her. But she didn’t leave the sport just be­cause things got tough.

Her two- time win at the World Cross-Coun­try Cham­pi­onships, in 1985 and 1986 re­spec­tively, was per­haps her great­est performance. Then she re­turned to South Africa, where she qual­i­fied for the Olympics in Barcelona.

Dur­ing my first decade com­pet­ing against her, all I saw of her was her butt! At that stage Zola was a world- class ath­lete, and re­al­is­ti­cally, I never had a chance. But at ev­ery sin­gle race, I fo­cused on bet­ter­ing my own performance in an at­tempt to close the gap.

Un­til re­cently Zola com­peted in the Com­rades too. Even though she’s now com­pet­ing in a dif­fer­ent age cat­e­gory, peo­ple just ex­pect her to come out on top.

PHO­TO­GRAPH COUR­TESY JETLINE AC­TION PHOTO

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