Zola Budd was born on 26 May 1966 in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State. She was a talented middle distance runner at a time when South Africa was a pariah in world sports. She twice broke the world record in the women’s 5000 metres, doing so for the first time when she was just 17 years old (although that wasn’t recognised because of South Africa’s apartheid policy. She moved to England on an ancestral claim and represented Great Britain where she broke the world record officially in 1985 with a time of 14:48.07 (for five kilometres). Her stay in England was controversial to say the least.
In the 1984 Olympic 3000 metres Mary Decker and Zola Budd collided, putting them both out of the running for the win that seemed likely for one of them if the accident had not occurred. This was a widely publicised event with the US media criticising Budd while the rest of the world was empathetic to what even Mary Decker later acknowledged was an accident brought about by their mutual inexperience of running in a pack.
In 1989 Zola Budd married Mike Pieterse and the couple live in the USA where Zola Budd is a track coach. Her daughter, Lisa, is also an athlete.
Zola Budd no longer runs barefoot, her distinctive trademark, and now also does long distance running, and in 2012 she returned to South Africa to run the Comrades, although illness forced her to withdraw from the Comrades in 2013.
Township taxis were nicknamed “Zola Budd” because of the great speed at which some of them travel and Brenda Fassie had a hit single in the 1980s with a track entitled “Zola Budd.”
Zola Budd was the first Newsmaker of the Year named by the Johannesburg Press Club in 1984. At the time of the award the trophy was not available. I was present in 2012 when the trophy was finally awarded to her, some twenty eight years later.
This is another blog in the 2013 Women’s Month series.