ZOLA PIETERSE (NÉE BUDD), 51
Former world cross-country champion, multiple SA champion, Comrades finisher
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