Nearly three decades after she was entangled in a controversial women's 3,000 metres final at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Zola Budd has set herself a modest goal in South Africa's most popular road race.
Budd, 45, will compete in the Comrades marathon, a race of approximately 90 kilometres between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in June.
Nick Bester, the national manager of the Nedbank Running Club, and the 1991 Comrades marathon champion, said on Tuesday that Budd, competing for the club's Bloemfontein division, would aim to break eight hours in the annual ultra-marathon in KwaZulu-Natal.
“She told me she hoped to run under eight hours, which is within her capability,” Bester said.
“She has been running quite a lot the last few years, and she did very well in cross country last season, so she definitely has the speed.”
Budd qualified for the race when she finished fourth at the Kiawah Island marathon in South Carolina in December, clocking 3:01.51.
And with a number of standard marathons under her belt – including major city races in New York (where she broke three hours in 2008) and London – Bester felt she had the credentials to earn a gold medal by finishing among the top 10 women.
“The benchmark for a woman to break seven hours at Comrades is to be able to run under three hours for a marathon,” Bester said.
“If she can run under seven hours, she will have a very good chance of earning a gold medal.”
Budd, a precocious teenage talent, is best know for her controversial emigration to England as a teenager and her subsequent clash with Mary Decker in the 3 000m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
She first made heads turn in 1983 when she clocked a remarkable time of 8:39.00 over 3 000m in Durban at the age of 16.
The following year she made heads turn again when she broke the world 5 000m record, running bare foot, at the age of 17 in Stellenbosch.
The mark was never ratified due to South Africa's isolation from international sport, and a couple of months later she packed her bags as her application for British citizenship was fast tracked by authorities.
Later that year, competing for the United Kingdom, she crashed to the track in the 3 000m final at the Los Angeles Games, along with Decker, in a much publicised race which would forever tarnish her career.
Budd picked herself up and finished the race – Decker did not – and over the next few years she would improve the world 5,000m best – officially this time, clocking 14:48.07 in London – and win two world cross country titles.
She never reached the dizzy heights, however, that many had predicted and eventually returned home to South Africa, where she competed on-and-off over the years.
Bester said Budd spent most of her time these days in the United States, but regularly returned home where she stayed in George.
And while she has entered the Two Oceans 56km race in Cape Town in April, Bester believed she had the ability to make heads turn again at Comrades.
“She probably won't join us on any of our training camps this year because she's very busy,” Bester said.
“But she's been around a long time, she knows herself, and she knows what to do.” – Sapa