By Michelle Cahill

Zola Budd-Pieterse has lost the race to save her marriage - allegedly to another married woman.

The running sensation of the 1980s is suing for divorce after 17 years of marriage. It is believed that a beauty queen is the cause of the rift between her and her husband, Bloemfontein businessman Mike Pieterse.

Although Budd-Pieterse would not speak to the media, it is believed that her husband has already moved in with Agatha "Pinkie" Pelser, a semi-finalist in the Mrs United Nations South Africa. It is alleged that he has already bought a "love nest" for them in Waverley, an upmarket suburb in Bloemfontein.

Pieterse has denied the claims, saying in reports that he bought the house as an investment and that Pelser was "just renting it".

Budd-Pieterse produced many record-breaking performances in middle-distance running, from the 1 500m to the 10 000m. She became a household name in 1983 when, at the age of 16, she shattered the world 5 000m record. Her time of 15min 1.83sec was seven seconds faster than the existing record. She set world record in the 5 000m three times.

Born in Bloemfontein in 1967, Budd-Pieterse abandoned her university education to concentrate on athletics. She controversially competed for Britain in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, after being granted British citizenship.

However, her Games ended in tears after she collided with American track sensation Mary Decker in the final of the 3 000m, signalling the end of her athletics career.

Since returning to South Africa from Britain in 1988, Budd-Pieterse has had to endure the divorce of her parents; the murder of her father, amid allegations that he was gay; and persistent rumours about her marriage.

It is claimed that the Budd-Pieterse marriage is not the only one Pelser has broken up. A woman whom she allegedly wronged agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

"I thought I had a happy marriage until she arrived on the scene. Although she has denied that she was a seductress, she most definitely is.

"I know of others whose marriages have broken up because of her. Not only was she the main reason why my marriage ended, she has also destroyed my children's lives. They are still being teased at school."

Budd-Pieterse filed for divorce this week, and it is believed she is adamant that Pelser was the cause of the break-up.

According to the Times Online, Budd-Pieterse said: "Why do all husbands deny it? I have no idea. But I have more than enough evidence that he is having an affair. More than enough."

Budd-Pieterse is still living in Pieterse's house, just outside Bloemfontein.

Budd-Pieterse's autobiography, published in London in November 1989, stated that she had asked her husband to marry her. She wrote that she had briefly met him in 1986 and again in 1988, after returning from Britain.

Pelser could not be reached for comment this week. Pieterse was also not available for comment, but it is believed that he would not be opposing the divorce.

He has claimed that he and Pelser are only friends and that he has known her since she was 13. It is believed that the relationship between Pelser and Pieterse started when Pelser, her husband and mother-in-law were seeking sponsors for the needy.

But allegedly this was only a ruse, as it is believed that the Pelser couple were having marital problems of their own. Pieterse said he and his wife had grown apart because of her allegations about Pelser.

Budd-Pieterse is apparently claiming more than R20 000 a month from Pieterse for maintenance for herself. She is also claiming several thousand rands for each of their three children, Lisa and twins Michael and Azelle.

Ironically, in one of her most recent newspaper interviews, in October last year, Budd-Pieterse said: "I love my husband and kids and wouldn't exchange that for anything else in the world."