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UK Athletics

Zola Budd

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Zola Budd

Full Name: Zola Budd (later,Pieterse)

Date of Birth: 1966

Born: Bloemfontein, South Africa 

Club: Aldershot, Farnham & District

Coach: Peter Labuschagne


1984. They Could Have Made A Movie Of It..

Dateline: January 1, 1984. How many people in world athletics knew of Zola Budd? Dateline: August 11, 1984. How many people in the world did not know of her? Every so often an athlete of immense talent emerges onto the scene and he or she progresses to the level that their ability had dictated. But however long people run and jump, and whatever times world records are taken to, there will never be a story like that of a barefooted, South African runner called Zola Budd.

 A teenage prodigy, in January 1984 Budd, just 17, had shocked the athletics world by breaking the 5000m world record time by over 6.43 seconds, running 15:01.83 to smash the mark held by the American Mary Decker. Though the time was not recognised by the International Amateur Athletics Federation because of South Africa’s ban from world sport because of the government’s decision to deny apartheid, no-one could ever have imagined how the paths of Budd and Decker would cross in front of the watching world seven months later. 


First Class Delivery

Budd’s name and reputation was growing throughout the sporting world but South Africa were not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games because of apartheid. The Daily Mail newspaper had an idea. They would try to bring Budd to Britain and find a way of earning her citizenship here because her grandfather was British and then she could compete at the summer’s Olympics in Los Angeles. It was an incredible, cloak-and-danger operation, with the newspaper sending its athletics correspondent and a news reporter out to watch her run, him reporting back to the Editor of what a talent she was and then her and her family being brought back to England in a hideout in the South Coast. Suddenly, it was front page news. They had allegedly paid £100,000 to secure the story and amid much controversy, she was fast-tracked to British citizenship. She made her debut, barefooted, on the track at Dartford Harriers and the publicity was unbelievable, with television crews, photographers and journalists turning the event into the media circus which her life would become. She won the race, of course, and within weeks she was selected to run the 3000m in LA. 


I Will Not Forgive You

By August 11, the tension was building for the 3000m final at the Olympic Games, with a packed crowd hoping that American darling Decker, holder of multiple world records, would win the gold they craved. She liked to front-run, as did Budd, and by the time the field entered the home straight with just over three laps to go, the pair had already looked closely at each other after their arms had touched. Budd led from Decker, with Britain's Wendy Sly on the outside and, in behind, Maricia Puica, of Romania. Then, dramatically, Decker's leg seemed to touch Budd's foot. They lost balance. Then Decker caught Budd's trailing leg and the American fell, careering off the track and into the infield. Booing boomed out around the stadium because Decker was out of the race and Budd was so affected that she went backwards, finishing seventh as Puica won in 8:35.96 with Sly second in 8:39.47. In tears, Decker was carried from the trackside by her future husband, the British discus thrower Richard Slaney, and after the race, as Budd went to apologise, the American told her she was not interested. It was headline news across the world.

Amazingly, Budd, now, 40, has never watched a re-run of the incident but the following summer, they met in a $200,000 showdown at Crystal Palace - the Briton receiving a $125,000 share - which Decker won with Budd third. They last spoke in 1992 when they were running together in a road race in Australia. Budd revealed: "She said she still blames for what happened but she has forgiven me.”


An Outstanding Record

 Amid all the drama, there was little doubting how good she was. Budd had set a total of 14 world junior bests between 1983 and 1985 from 1500m to 5000m, and achieved her greatest success with world cross-country titles in 1985 and 1986, and on the track in 1985 when she won the European Cup 3000m and broke world record for 5000m with 14:48.07 in London.

In 1986 she set a world indoor record for 3000m of 8:39.79 and she returned for good to South Africa in 1988. She married South African Mike Pieterse on 15 April 1989 but in that same year, her father, Frank, was murdered by an Afrikaner. By 1992, ironically, she was able to compete at the Olympics Games in Barcelona for her native country after South Africa’s ban had been lifted, though she failed to make the 5000m final. But she showed a return to form by finishing fourth at the World Cross Country Championships in 1993 and seventh the following year before her daughter Lisa was born in 1995. She had twins, Mikey and Azelle, in 1998.

Budd was determined to keep running and in April 2003 she competed in the Flora London Marathon, dropping out at 20 miles suffering from a blood-sugar problem. In April 2006, she filed for divorce as her life took another twist. She is now a full-time mum, living in Bainsvlei near Bloemfontein, and is studying a Masters Degree in Pastoral Therapy. She tries to run every day.


International Championships for UK

1984: 7th 3000m Olympics

1985: 1st World cross-country, 1st 3000m European Cup

1986: 1st World cross-country; 9th 1500m, 4th 3000m Europeans


UK Internationals: 7 (1984-6)

for South Africa

1992: ht 3000m Olympics, 4th 3000m African Ch

1993: 4th World cross-country

1994: 7th World cross-country


National Championships

Won South African 1500m 1982-3, 1991; 3000m 1982-3, 1990-1; 10,000m 1994, Half Marathon 1993, 1996; cross-country 1994, 1996; UK 1500m 1984, WAAA 3000m 1985, 1500m 1986.


Personal bests

800m 2:00.58 mx (1986), 2:00.9 (1984), 1500m 3:59.96 (1985), 1M 4:17.57 (1985), 2000m 5:30.19 (1986), 3000m 8:28.83 (1985), 5000m 14:48.07 (1985); road 10km 32:20 (1983), Half Marathon 71:04 (1997).