Tag Archives: athletics

Harrismith’s Mountain Goat

The people of Harrismith dubbed Michael McDermott ‘The Mountain Goat’.

Or so running e-zine ‘Modern Athlete’ says of SIXTEEN-times winner of our Mountain Race. Apparently we used to write supportive messages for him along the route of the Harrismith Mountain Race, much like supporters do in the Tour De France. Race organisers would set him up our local hotel with the room number that corresponded with the win he was going for. Michael became a hugely popular and inspirational figure thanks to his 16-consecutive-year winning streak in our rugged annual race.

They go on: Michael’s love affair with Harrismith’s imposing Platberg began in 1978, when he was just 13. “I was alone at home and ran 5km to the Harrismith Harriers clubhouse because I wanted to run that day, but no-one was there, so I ran back home. Then they called me up to ask where I was and came to fetch me. So before the race, I already ran 10km,” says Michael, who ran the race and finished 32nd. “Nobody believed I had completed the race, though, because I was so small!” he laughs.

In 1980, he finished eighth and qualified for a gold medal, but had to receive it unofficially, behind the tent, as he was still below the minimum 16-year age limit for the race. A year later and now ‘legal,’ he finished fifth, and then in 1982 he posted the first of his 16 consecutive wins, an amazing world record also held by similarly uber-talented athletes Michael McLeod of England and Jim Pearson of America. He held the record for the short 12.3km course at 50mins 30secs in 1985 and the long 15km course at 1hr 05mins 05secs as the first winner over the new distance in 1996. It came to an end when he ‘stepped skew’ and tore ligaments in his ankle while well in the lead on his way to a 17th straight win in 1998. Michael Miya took over and won the race in a new record time of 1hr 04mins 06secs and became the first black South African winner. While McDermott was really disappointed, it was also “a relief as there wasn’t that pressure to win after that.”

SPRINGBOK

Michael earned Springbok colours in 1988 for cross-country, and was invited to run a number of international mountain running events in the early 1990s. He won the Swiss Alpine Marathon three times, shattering the course record in 1993. He also represented South Africa seven times in the World Mountain Trophy, from 1993 to 1999, with a best placing of fifth in 1993 in France. http://www.modernathlete.co.za

*my potted history of the race*


This post opened a flood of ancient memories!

Thanks Koos – very interesting.

In “our day” Johnny Halberstadt was the King – wonder where he is today?

I strolled the race 2 or 3 times in the 1990s – never finished in the allotted time, but always walked away with a medal, ’cause I knew Jacqui Wessels (du Toit) who handed out the medals!

Remember the year we did it after “peaking” at Pierre’s home the night before – about 3am. You remarked as you crossed the Start Line (not the Finishing Line) – “I think I’m under-trained”. The hangovers were monumental. As we strolled past the adoring, cheering spectators, one guy was heard to remark “Daai mal ou het sy verkyker om sy nek!” That was you!

The year Karin Goss and I did it, (circa 1998) we were so last that even the Coke truck had packed up and left by the time we strolled into Die Groen Paviljoen! We were so busy ‘phoning the whole world from the summit that we forgot to be competitive. Jacqui insisted on giving us medals, but drew the line at Gold – we had to be content with Bronze. Don’t know why she was so strict – there were a few Golds lying in the bottom of the box.

Was Alet de Witt the first lady to compete?

Love

stroller Sheila Swanepoel

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Sheila, I think you forgot that when we allowed you to go through the finish banner after cut-off time, there was a breathalyser test for the finishers. This you seemed to have forgotten! Legal limits are 0,24 milligrams per 1000 millilitres. Finishers (at sunset) with this reading all get GOLD.

Unfortunately your readings were 0.60 . . . hence the Bronze medal. 😉

All the best (hope you enter the Mountain Race again this Year).

Kind Regards

actual finisher Jacquie Du Toit, also ex-Mountain Race high-up official

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Hey Sheils
I think we must do it once more!! Seriously!
What comes after bronze??? And is there a medi-vac chopper available?
Thanks for the interesting article Koos!
Happy Women’s Day everyone.
Love (stroller) Kar Goss xx
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Sheila, As far I can remember my Mom Alet and Mavis Hutchison did the race around 1969,70. Koos Keyser won it 5 times 1964-68. Wally Hayward (5-times Comrades winner) won in 1952.

actual finisher JP de Witt

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Sheila, For what it’s worth – I’m seriously considering doing it this year… if anyone wants to join me, perhaps we can motivate each other 🙂 **(Hushed silence from the sundry assorted 60-somethings – *sound of crickets*)**

and yes, there is a ‘medi-vac’ chopper 🙂 I was running it in about 1985-ish, when a runner from Welkom dislodged a rock on One-Man’s Pass. The rock fell onto his thigh, cutting and damaging the muscle. Tony Perry (a fellow runner from Newcastle) and I were immediately behind and below the unfortunate gent. With the help of two of his team mates we carried him to the top. Another of his team mates went ahead to tell Doc Mike van Niekerk that we needed a casualty to be taken off the mountain. By the time we got to the top, both Mike and the chopper were ready….

Tony and I missed out on our silver medals by about 10 minutes (silver time was 1 hour 40 minutes). I moved to Cape Town and never ran another mountain race! So I still only have a bronze. [PS! Mike asked the committee to award Tony and I silver medals, but they must have had a shortage that year 🙂 ]

Footnote: Michael McDermott was at school when he joined our running club in Newcastle, in about 1979… there were a few ‘windhonde’ in the club at the time, but pretty soon he was chasing and beating most of them on the shorter runs. There were a few Harrismitters I saw regularly at races: Pieter Oosthuyzen and Koos Rautenbach, I especially remember, as I often chatted to them at races.

Has anyone from Harrismith ever won this besides Volschenk? and btw, I thought it was Koos Keyser who was the big hero winner of our school days?

PS! note I said ‘doing’ the mountain race… no commitment to running it at this stage, but that may change on the day 🙂

Love to you all

actual finisher Pikkie Loots

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Chariots of Beer

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.

bluegum-trees

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.