It was the Eastern Free State athletics championships and we were three kranige athletes, in our prime (well, so far . . . we would get better at some things as time went on).
In the triple jump: Steph de Witt, matric. Long legs, big springs. In with a chance of a medal.
In the pole vault: Hoender Kok, matric. Feisty competitor, but probably not a contender as his short aluminium pole looks ancient next to the long, whippy fibreglass poles the boys from the bigger towns and schools are sporting. Fullback for the rugby team, he was nicknamed “HO Ender” (hoender, geddit?) after HO de Villiers, the Springbok fullback.
In the javelin: Me, Std 8. New to javelin, just discovered it that year and loved it.
The school bus was naturally available for us to get to the metropolis of Senekal. That was the usual and expected way, so we naturally declined, Steph organising that we drove ourselves to Senekal in Gerrie Pretorius’ white Ford Corsair. Actually we weren’t licenced, so one of the guys who worked for his Mom at JN de Witt Hardware drove us.
Accompanying us was Larry Wingert, Rotary exchange student from Cobleskill New York. He had brought Bill Cosby’s “Why is there air?” vinyl LP to the Free State without Hertzog the censor baas knowing it. NOAH! Ri-ight! What’s a cubit? Vupa vupa vupa. (You had to have heard it).
The Corsair’s engine did sound a bit like a Cessna engine as we roared off in the pre-dawn heading west, the rising sun behind us, to Senekal, city of song and laughter – well song anyway. Tiekiedraai songs. As we pulled in to the dusty dorp Steph had us pull over outside the only cafe in town, where he asked the Greek owner (who became his mate in two seconds flat – Steph is like that) if he’d please keep our beers.
Oh yes: Steph’s gardener had procured a sixpack of long tom cans for us from Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel offsales (Mom & Dad losing the sale at Platberg bottle store because of their ridiculous and unreasonable “No under 18’s” policy).
Now at this juncture, please don’t come with any steroid, drug or performance-enhancing accusations. Let it be noted that we did not partake in our stimulants until AFTER the athletic meeting was over. During the competition we were clean, nê? (And anyway those long toms were only conversation stimulants and personality enhancers).
Let the games begin! Steph’s event was first and we watched and moedig’d him aan. He won the driesprong! We had a gold medal in the Corsair! The beer was legitimised: It was celebratory! True it was only a paper certificate, but it said Eerste Plek and that = Gold Medal.
A long gap followed before my event after lunch. It didn’t look too good and I was languishing, but then I didn’t have any expectations. My last throw came and the whole thing is etched in my memory. I can still today feel the run, the launch, the perfect flight of the javelin and my landing, spiked foot digging in one inch behind the wavy, hand-drawn white-wash line on the grass and having to push back to not lurch over it and get disqualified. I just knew it was perfection and it flew on and on, past all the markers of the langgatte from Voortrekker in Bethlehem. Another gold medal for the Corsair! Spiesgooi. This one out of the blue.
Hoender’s event was last and we went to cheer. It didn’t look good. One short stiff pole vs a bunch of long whippy poles seemed unfair. He was offered the use of a fibreglass pole but he declined. They take some getting used to. Then it started to drizzle. Suddenly everything changed! The okes with the whippy poles started floundering and slipping. Hoender soldiered on. It made no difference to him what the weather was like. On the last height there were two competitors left. Whippy pole slipped and gly’d and got nowhere. Hoender went over to a roar of applause from all four of us. He’d won!! Our third gold medal! Paalspring. A clean sweep!
The music from Chariots of Fire swelled over the once dusty, now damp, dorp, rising to a crescendo (sure, the movie was only made in 1981 and this was 1970, but WE HEARD IT).
We hastened straight to the white Corsair, parked under the nearby bluegum trees, skipping the official podium pomp.
Bloekom trees like these.
We had our own unofficial celebration waiting. Off to the cafe to rescue the beer from next to the eskimo pies and away with “the windshield wipers slappin’ time, n Larry clappin’ hands”! We roared off heading east, slightly pickled after glugging the 455ml of (okay, not yet sweet-tasting, still getting used to it) nectar, the setting sun behind us, conversations stimulated and personalities enhanced.