Former great Matthews Motshwarateu is one of the 'Three Matthews' who form the centre of a book on the golden age of SA road running.

The Three Men Named Matthews (Red Lion Books) By Richard Mayer (R185)

Ahead of the start of the South African athletics season on Friday, former South African mile record holder Johan Fourie warned milers about the hazards of the race, particularly the final nine metres.

Indeed, Fourie has a point. His national mile record stands at 3:50.82. Apart from this remarkable achievement, he also ran 56 dream miles under four minutes.

Fourie’s statement coincides with my reading of the book by attorney Richard Mayer on “the Golden Age of South African Distance Running”.

Although the book is dedicated to the three men named Matthews (the late Matthews “Loop and Val” Motshwarateu, Matthews Temane and Matthews Batswadi) and their thriumphs and setbacks, it traces the successess or failures of former top runners like Fourie, Shadrack Hoff, Sydney Maree, Titus Mamabolo, Mark Plaatjes, Willie Mtolo, Zithulele Sinqe, Xolile Yawa, and current stars led by Hendrick Ramaala.

It is a hard-hitting book about how apartheid denied our top runners the opportunity to race against the best in the world and laments that at the moment they do not make them like they used to.

This is illustrated more poignantly in the foreword by Tim Noakes. “Temane ran the 21,1km in 60.11 in 1987, then the world’s fastest time; Motshwarateu set the world record for the 10km on the road at the age of 21; Mtolo, winner of the 1992 New York and Mark Plaatjes, the 1993 World Marathon champion.

“Of course, if you did not know the history, you would presume that these runners come from East Africa, either Kenya or Ethiopia.

“Meyer’s exhaustively researched book reminds us of where we once were and what we have lost.”

Indeed, what we have lost in the last 20 years or so will probably take us a long time to recover.

It is sad that runners like Fourie, Plaatjies and Chris de Beer were so determined run overseas that they tried to emigrate to Swaziland.

I'm fascinated about: How Mayer, a former athletics coach at the Wanderers club and a runner himself, build up his relationships with the runners, particularly with Motshwarateu.

How their friendship grew from the time they met at an after-race prize giving to the time when the Soweto runner was tragically killed in the township.

How he decided to take up the cudgels for the runners, resulting in this book, when one day after Temane’s great run of 60.11 at the half-marathon championships in East London in 1987, he was disgusted that the media treated this world record achievement with disdain in their news bulletins. Mayer also laments the fact that Motshwarateu, with nearly six years at the University of Texas el Paso, could have aimed higher in the local job market than his job as a used car saleman.

This is one book all runners must read if they want to know about the golden age of South Africa distance running and its aftermath. – Reviewed by Bafana Shezi.