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Mary v Zola at the 1984 Olympics
By Martin "Mr Concrete" Kelner
Jul 31, 2016 - 9:04:22 PM

For the full column, here's the link

It's available from 10am, Monday

It comes in association with the UK's fabulous concrete show

Meanwhile, here's the first couple of hundred words....

Few of the stories emerging from the Olympics over the next few weeks, I suspect, will be as compelling as the Mary Decker - Zola Budd imbroglio at the 1984 Los Angeles games.

 

Or maybe it's distance that lends enchantment.   Caught up in the cut and thrust of the daily action, perhaps we fail to appreciate every little narrative.  

 

Thinking back to '84,  Zola Budd, running for Britain, was no hero to pinko liberal Guardian readers like me, as we sat around fulminating against apartheid, and waiting for quinoa to be invented.   When she finished in sixth place in the ladies' 3000 metres, I don't recall being heartbroken.  

 

Budd's story, of how she broke records in her native South Africa - barred from world sport at the time - was bought up by the Daily Mail and fast-tracked to British citizenship, before her fateful clash with Decker, was told in a terrific documentary, The Fall, on Sky Atlantic.   It was a tale to make even the pinkiest pinko think again about our reaction to the barefoot runner.

 

I remember London at the time being quite a bolthole for young white politically conscious South Africans, fleeing their decadently luxurious lives for bed-sits in Camden Town.  

 

What struck me most about their stories was the total isolation of their leper state; the banned rock music, the emasculated television service, the censored press.   It clearly would have been quite possible for a teenager like Zola growing up in a strict Calvinist home in Bloemfontein, with a controlling father, to be ignorant of the South African reality.

 


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