On Sunday the city’s main streets get taken over by The New York City Marathon again. I’ll be at my usual spot on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene looking out for the top African runners like Hendrik Ramaala and Paul Tergat. But one of the thousands of competitors will be a familiar face: Zola Budd. She is not, however, a serious contender in the women’s race. Remember her. But that’s only part of the story as this New York Times profile reminded its readers:
‘… In 1984, a waifish world-record holder at 18, Budd Pieterse skirted the Olympic ban against South Africa by competing for Britain at the Los Angeles Games, receiving accelerated citizenship because she had a British grandfather. To antiapartheid activists, and others who protested her races in England, Budd Pieterse was a remorseless symbol of South Africa’s segregationist policies. To The Daily Mail newspaper of London, which sponsored her move to England, she was a circulation windfall. To her father, Frank Budd, she was, as she put it bluntly, “a way to easy money.” … “I definitely feel I was used by both sides,” Budd Pieterse said. And at 18, she added, “I was just so ignorant and naïve.” “People don’t want to believe it, but growing up in South Africa, we were so isolated, we didn’t have any international news coverage,” Budd Pieterse said. “Nelson Mandela went to prison before I was born. I didn’t know about his existence. His name was never mentioned in any newspaper. For me, it was an eye opener to go to Britain and see coverage about South Africa.” She ignored calls to renounce apartheid until her biography, “Zola,” appeared in 1989, when she wrote, “The Bible tells me that all men are created equal,” and called South Africa’s racial policies “intolerable.” ‘
It’s been 24 years. This time I’ll be rooting for her.