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Richard Mayer knows a bit about running. Let’s be honest and say he knows more about running, and South African running in particular, than pretty much anybody else I know. (Well, Keith Sherman excluded. Let’s call it a tie)

So when he decided to write a book on the most impressive era of South African road running, you know it is going to be a keeper. There’s no fluffed up, hyped up nonsense in there. Just an inspiring account of some pretty outstanding characters and some pretty outstanding performances.

The review below is taken from a South African newspaper called The Citizen.

The books is called: Three Men Named Matthews: Memories of the Golden Age of South African Distance Running and its Aftermath.

 
We can be the best
 

There was a time, during the isolation years, when South Africa had the best distance runners in the world.

Our elite athletes would, if given the chance, have left Kenyans and Ethiopians in their wake.

I was privileged to have front row seats at championships where these titans waged enthralling battles of will, talent and guile. I was fortunate to win the SA Road Running Association’s Press Award in 1989 and the SA Amateur Athletics Merit Award in 1990. Fortunate because there were several writers doing a better job.

However, none of us could have come close to matching the magnificent work produced by Richard Mayer in his new book Three Men Named Matthews: Memories of the Golden Age of South African Distance Running and its Aftermath.

In recalling the exploits of Mat thews Batswadi, Matthews Motshwar ateu and Matthews Temane, Mayer writes with incomparable inside knowledge and experience. He’s clocked up impressive 5 000m and 10km times at provincial level. He knows what makes top runners tick.

Make no mistake, we had world beaters. Temane’s 60:11 for the 21,1km in 1987 was the fastest on the planet. Incredibly, Temane was also a sub-four minute miler who beat icon Johan Fourie in Potchefstroom to set an altitude record of 3:55.4. Mayer describes this as “one of the greatest – if unheralded – mile performances in athletic history.

“It was a victory for grace over strength, and for the underdog over the overwhelming favourite”.

Indeed Temane was a graceful, smooth striding runner whose almost saintly, quiet demeanour became a focal point for black pride and white admiration. I was struck by the appar ent absence of ego, especially in com parison with lesser athletes who would boast during interviews.

Motshwarateu set a world record 10km record at the age of 21.

Batswadi was the trailblazer, the first black runner to be awarded Springbok colours.

But Mayer’s book is more than a paean to an athletes’ pantheon. A subtext is: we were so good, what happened? As Tim Noakes says in the foreword: “Why could SA athletics produce world-class athletes 20 years ago but apparently not any more?”

There are many answers. Surprisingly, the gold price is one. The mines no longer provide the level of support they did in the 1980s. We’ve also gone soft. All the great athletes in the book actively sought hardship, says Noakes.

We know about the new generation of politically minded administrators whom Noakes says are “less interested in serving athletes and growing the sport than in the pursuit of what they believe sport owes them”.

Noakes and Mayer agree that be hind all great athletes is a great coach. Mayer shows how the role of coaches has been subverted.

Thinking about these things while jogging the well-organised Soweto Marathon on Sunday, I was again awed by the massive community sup port there is for running, despite media bias towards other sports.

I believe we can be the power we were going to be. And to have a galaxy of Matthews triumphant on the world stage will uplift this nation.

There are people with enough knowledge and passion to make it happen. There are people who have the ability to get things done. There are people who can provide enough money.

The challenge is to get them all on the same track.

 The book is available online at http://www.redpepperbooks.co.za/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=9780620424189

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