Zola Budd Prepares For Barcelona


A rare interview with Zola Budd (Pieterse), conducted at her home in Bloemfontein in 1992 prior to the Olympic Games in Barcelona.

Zola Pieterse Prepares For Barcelona

By Anli Serfontein

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa, July 3 1992 Sapa-Reuter

Zola Pieterse may be just a shy country girl who loves nothing more than free- range eggs, but when she gets on the track it'spure anger that takes over.

Pieterse, 26, who ran for Britain in the 1984 Olympics as the waif-like Zola Budd, has had one of the most tumultuous careers in athletics since she started running barefoot 12 years ago at her South African school.

She tried to give up amid a storm of anti-apartheid politics in 1988, but the sport was too deeply in her blood.

She will be at the Olympics again this month -- unless politics belatedly trips up her and her compatriots.

"I think it is a tremendous personal victory, that despite everything that has happened to me in athletics, I again managed to qualify for the Olympics," Pieterse said in an interview.

"There were many difficult times in which I had to persevere and get on with it to achieve that international standard again."

In the 1984 Los Angeles Games, a collision with Mary Decker Slaney sent the American sprawling and ruined both their chances of gold in the 3,000 metres.

Pieterse is reluctant to discuss the incident, but said she had put that ghost to rest. "Hopefully there will be no accidents again this year," she said with a grin.

She still carries scars from the row that erupted in 1984 when she evaded the moratorium on South African athletes by obtaining British citizenship through her father's British passport.

Anti-apartheid activist Sam Ramsamy led the campaign against her in those days but is now president of the national Olympic committee leading South Africa back into the Games after 32 years.

"I was an easy target for the anti-apartheid activists, definitely. They could misuse me easily for their own political gain," Pieterse said.

"But I think one must look to the future and what was in the past is hopefully in the past now. As long as they only act in the interests of sport I have no problem with them, but I don't think one can ever forget what happened."

Between answering questions, she made arrangements on the telephone to buy chickens so her family could have a constant supply of free-range eggs.

Pieterse, about to leave on a five-week international tour to prepare for Barcelona, said she was terribly homesick during her years in Britain.

Asked about the demonstrations that dogged her performances in Britain, she said: "There were always a couple of loonies who caused all the trouble, but the vast majority of people in Britain were always good to me."

She left in tears in 1988 and went into early retirement but the lure of running was too strong and after her marriage she started to "run for herself".

In April, Pieterse finished in front of Kenya's Susan Sirma, who won bronze at the world championships in Tokyo last year, although both were beaten by top South African Elana Meyer.

She believes the last three years of isolation have affected her running, "It's the same opposition all the time, it becomes rather predictable."

The biggest problem facing South Africa's middle distance runners will be the difference between running a good time on their own and running a good tactical race, she said.

On Sunday, Pieterse was a shade disappointing when finishing only fourth in the African championships in Mauritius.

In the past she has suffered serious bouts of tickbite fever and meningitis in 1989 but scoffs at suggestions that she might have burned herself out.

"That is complete nonsense, since I was 14 the world has been waiting for me to burn myself out and look I'm still running good times," she said.

What makes her run?

"It was the only sport at school in which I could not hurt someone with my aggression. I get aggressive in about 90 per cent of all races. Sometimes I get incredibly angry," she said.

(c) Reuters