By Mandla & Andile Dladla
Legendary former South Africa sprinter Geraldine Pillay who specialized in the 100 and 200m track events says in order for any athlete to make their mark internationally they first have to excel locally and that is why a solid, well-run domestic season is very important.
“I remember how we used to have the ABSA Series and it comprised six events across the country,” she recalled. “Thereafter we would participate in the Engen Three Series where international athletes would be invited to compete for three weeks in South Africa.
“I am not just talking about an odd or two international athletes but truck-loads of them would come here. That gave us as South Africans and local athletes a chance to record decent times because you were invited according to your times in order to run at their European circuit.
“Once an athlete runs a time that ranked amongst the best in the world in the season, they receive an invite to Europe. There were other ways where local agents took athletes to Europe but again it was all performance based and it allowed us not just to compete but to make a little bit of money as well.”
Many years ago back when a young Geraldine Pillay was in Grade One at school, we are talking somewhere during 1984, she used to participate in inter house athletic competitions.
As fate would have it, Geraldine came second best in the maiden race which meant she was a reserve for the upcoming Inter-school athletics event. It hurt her ego, especially when she realized that her only way of taking part was if somebody within the team got injured!
The following year she put her focus on winning the inter house event at all cost so that she could be the one running the inter schools athletics. This was in Cape Town all way back in a small place called Raithby where she grew up which is not too far from the Stellenbosch winelands competing in the 50-m for the girls U-7.
“I don’t think enough is being done about athletic and sport because way back then when I was still competing there was a slogan going something like: “We are taking sport to the people” yet today I have no idea what has happened between then and now.
“Athletics is probably the most affordable sport you can find, where you just need a pair of running. Some of the athletes brave the track without wearing shoes. With soccer you need all kinds of expensive looking boots and all these different types of equipment.”
Furthermore Pillay thinks the reason why a lot of kids would rather lean more towards cricket or football is because they are very lucrative professions.
“In South Africa I can on one hand name athletes that can live off at just participating and track and field events. The rest still need to work and still do athletics on the side which doesn’t really make them professional athletes but amateurs.
“My advice to young aspiring athletes would be to try and join a local club in your area where you live or attend school. Just try and get involved and associate yourself with like-minded people that would help you reach your goals.
“Athletics or sports will teach you a lot of life lessons. Not all of us will become an Olympian but there are so many valuable lessons that we can take from sports. If you don’t succeed today then you come back tomorrow and work a little bit harder.
Geraldine is deeply concerned about the unseen, invincible enemy called Covid-19 that has affected our lifestyles and sporting participation so much but is hopeful that by the time the Olympics get underway in Tokyo, we shall have defeated the pandemic.
She also hopes that by then spectators would be safely allowed into stadiums because she cannot imagine for instance, Akani Simbine in the 100-m finals and winning a gold medal in front of no spectators.