Johannesburg – One of South Africa's most accomplished distance runners, veteran Zola Budd, has withdrawn from the country's most prestigious road race, the Comrades Marathon, due to illness.
Budd, 47, was aiming for a silver medal – awarded to athletes who finish the 86km race in under seven-and-a-half-hours (7:30:00) – but she confirmed on Thursday she had pulled out three days before the annual event.
“I was really happy with my fitness levels and satisfied with my preparations for Comrades,” Budd said in a statement released by her sponsors, The Unlimited.
“I spent many solitary hours on the road as part of my preparations and have travelled halfway around the world to be here, so it is obviously very frustrating. I’ll just have to hold out for next time.”
Budd, who lives in the United States, made her Comrades debut last year in the “down” run between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. She crossed the finish line in 8:06:09 to take 37th position overall in the women's category and 10th place in the veteran women's division.
And while she was hoping for an improved performance in the “up” run on Sunday, which starts in Durban, she was concerned about her health after picking up a viral infection, and doctors advised her not to take part in the gruelling event.
“Maybe if I wait three more years, I can come back to tackle the Comrades in a completely new (masters) age category, which could be very exciting,” said Budd.
Born in Bloemfontein, Budd moved to the United Kingdom shortly before the 1984 Olympic Games and was granted citizenship, which was fast-tracked and processed in time for her to represent the country at the Los Angeles showpiece.
Her dream Olympic debut was crushed, however, when she finished seventh in the women's 3000m final after an infamous crash with American Mary Decker-Slaney.
Still representing the UK, she went on to break the women's 5000m world record in 1985, as a teenager, and won at the World Cross Country Championships in 1985 and 1986.
A few years later she returned to South Africa, and went on to represent the country of her birth at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, where she was eliminated in the heats of the women's 3000m event.
Budd still holds the South African 1500m record, after clocking 4:01.81 in Port Elizabeth in March 1984, shortly before her departure to the UK. It remains one of the longest-standing marks in the SA record books.
She also maintains her grip on the world junior records in the women's mile (1.609km) and 3000m events, which have stood firm for nearly 30 years. – Sapa