Ferdi le Grange: Run­ner who dom­i­nated marathons in 1970s

1948-2013

Sunday Times - - OBITUARIES -

FERDI le Grange, who has died at the age of 65, was South Africa’s great­est marathon run­ner in the 1970s and, for a pe­riod, the sev­enth-fastest such ath­lete in the world.

In 1971, he be­came the first in Africa to run a marathon in un­der two hours, 20 min­utes when, in his de­but run over this dis­tance, on a hilly course in Dur­banville, Cape Town, he clocked 2:19:02.2.

Two months later, he ran the same course in 2:17:51.4, beat­ing the pre­vi­ous record holder, Wil­lie Oliver, by al­most seven min­utes.

From then on, un­til his med­i­cal stud­ies forced him to re­tire from com­pet­i­tive run­ning at the age of 25, he was un­beat­able over this dis­tance in South Africa. He set six South African marathon records.

His great­est run was in the South African Open Marathon in Port El­iz­a­beth in 1974 when he clocked 2:12:47. It was the fastest marathon ever run in Africa and placed him sev­enth on the world list that year. His record stood for five years, un­til Johnny Hal­ber­stadt shaved 28 sec­onds off it with a run of 2:12:19 in 1979.

Le Grange is re­garded by many as South Africa’s great­est marathon run­ner un­til the ar­rival of Josiah Thug­wane, who won gold at the 1996 Olympics in At­lanta with a time of 2:12:36.

The in­ter­na­tional sports boy­cott pre­vented Le Grange him­self from com­pet­ing in the Olympics and se­verely lim­ited his chances of test­ing him­self against the best in other in­ter­na­tional events. De­spite be­ing among the top 10 marathon run­ners in the world for a num­ber of years, he ran only five in­ter­na­tional marathons in his ca­reer.

Nev­er­the­less, he ran against the world’s best in the UK and Europe, in the process be­com­ing the first run­ner ever to run two sub-2:20 marathons in one week.

He ran in South Africa’s first mul­tira­cial marathon, 1973’s South African Games Marathon through the streets of Pre­to­ria, which he won by al­most seven min­utes in a time of 2:24:12.

In 1974, he be­came the first run­ner in Africa to run more than 20km in an hour. He ran 20.158km on a grass track in Bel­lville and beat the record held by the great Abebe Bik­ila.

Le Grange was born in Molteno in the East­ern Cape on Au­gust 26 1948, the son of a farmer. He ma­tric­u­lated at the lo­cal gov­ern­ment school. There were only four ma­tric­u­lants in his year, one girl and three boys. He liked to joke about the fact that he was the head boy.

He stud­ied medicine at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, and prac­tised as a plas­tic sur­geon in Bed­ford­view, Gaut­eng.

He died in his sleep. He is sur­vived by his wife, Kathy, and four chil­dren. — Chris Bar­ron

GO­ING THE DIS­TANCE: Ferdi le Grange set six SA records

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