Red Lion books  ISBN 978-062-042-4189

The Three Matthews chronicles the careers of three leading lights amongst the wealth of Distance running in South Africa which hit a purple patch entering into the 1980’s.

As far back as 1976 South Africa’s apartheid rules had seen the country evolve as a political piranha of the world. Over the following quarter century increasing levels of sporting and political isolation became a precursor to realization of a democracy.

Growing frustration and resentment spread throughout the country invoking increased stress in day-to-day living. The resistance movement and authorities traded levels of unrest and protest both in the townships and in urban centres.

Sporting competition was isolated to local and national events with limited direct comparison to international levels.

It seemed the least likely time for world-class performances and yet ironically it was in this period that spawned South Africa’s Golden Age of Distance Running.

In 350 pages dedicated runner, and enthusiastic coach, Richard Mayer, passionately details the both the famous and infamous races and occasions of the era using the life and times of three of the country’s most prolific middle distance athletes of the time: Matthews Batswadi who became the first black athlete to be awarded Springbok colours; Matthews Temane the man who broke the world half marathon record and was renowned for a devastating finishing kick, and Matthews Motshwarateu a hard man who hit from the front of any race and at 21 years of age set the World 10km road record.

This trio forms the thread to Mayers book that wends its way across and through two decades of isolation before South Africa re-emerged at the 1992 Olympics.

It’s an era that includes the rise and fall of stars such as bare-footed world 3000m record holder Zola Budd (Pieterse), 2:08 marathoners Willie Mtolo, Mark Plaatjies and Zithulete Sinqe, World 1500m record holder Sydney Maree, and World 15km Record Holder Elana Meyer who was the only athlete to bring back a medal from the Barcelona Olympics as the sun set on this Golden era.

Mayer’s book is not a biography of the three Matthews, but a well researched and documented account of both local and high profile events over these years. Mayer’s descriptions of races will take you to the track and road side re-living the excitement, cut and thrust between the leading athletes: It is an unique history of the times when success was not seen as a right, but a desire to that demanded determination and fulfilment.

Entering the 1990’s the re-emergence of South Africa was both welcomed and feared internationally as it was expected that they would be a dominant force in middle and long distance running. Yet just as mysteriously as the talent had been borne into a period of isolation, it faded as fast as the progression towards normality and democracy.

In analysing the era, Mayer offers a series of hypothesis as to why South Africa finds itself lagging in performance today.

Consideration of the financial gains from running, the introduction of drug use / abuse, and the inevitable entwinement of sport and politics as South Africa wrenched itself into democracy are all identified as potential factors.  However Mayer’s greatest concerns relate to the marginalization of the coaches and coaching structures required to channel, mentor and motivate talent from the grass roots over the tough disciplined trail to the top.

It may ironically be the determination to overcome the brutal inequalities of the previous regime, and the determination take on adversity head-on spawned the core group who inspired, motivated and provided role models for the wealth of talent that rose to that call in the 1980’s.

This is a book for everyone interested in South African middle and long distance running. It is the heritage of the sport at its best and it is a reminder of what can be if the correct ladder is built by the federation, the provinces, and the clubs to inspire today’s talent.

The Three Matthews is available at all bookshops at R185

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