Excerpt: Olympic Collision

Enjoy an excerpt from Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd (Nebraska, 2015) by Kyle Keiderling in honor of the Boston Marathon and Joeth Zucco, Senior Project Editor at UNP, who is running in the race. Good luck, Joeth! 

FIFTEEN. World Champ

Zola Budd was back on British soil and would begin her 1985 indoor season in Cosford at the British championships in a 1,500-meter race on January 25.

Zola won, but her return reflected her emotional condition as she posted a 4:11.20 mark over 1,500 meters, a distance she had covered in a world-record 4:04.39 less than a year earlier.

She then ran in the southern counties cross-country championships in Ipswich and clocked a time of 18:55 over 5.7 kilometers while running barefoot in very cold weather. Mel Batty of Brooks, whose shoes Zola had endorsed, was not pleased and neither was Pieter. “They both wanted me to wear spikes, but I wasn’t that comfortable in them and decided to run barefoot,” she said.

Next she raced in a 3,000-meter event with an international field against the West Germans. It would be her first race representing Great Britain against international competition since the Olympics. “People should realize that Zola can beat the world,” said Sue Crehan, her British teammate in the event.

Zola told a reporter that she had the British record set by Paula Fudge in her sights. “The people here (raf Cosford in Wolverhampton) have been very good with their support. They have helped my running and I would like to do something special for them,” she said. She did. She won in 8:56.1, setting a new Commonwealth record.

Zola Budd’s first few races back in England had, as usual, produced a few antiapartheid protesters, but they were kept in check as they unfurled banners and signs aimed at Zola, who otherwise was warmly greeted by the crowds.

In fact she had become “the Pied Piper of English racing,” as one paper put it, as her ability to draw crowds and television exposure surpassed that of Sebastian Coe in the past.

In the Daily News of Durban, South Africa, Alan Robinson noted, “Indoors, outdoors, city streets . . . it is all the same to Zola Budd. The tiny waif just goes on collecting trophy after trophy, record after record in her quest to become the greatest woman runner the world has ever seen.” Her recent performances were all that was needed, Robinson said, “to warm the hearts of the rapidly multiplying Zola Budd fan club.”

A club of a decidedly different kind awaited her at her next stop, Liverpool, on Saturday, February 16.

Want more books about runners? Check out Personal Record: A Love Affair with Running (Bison Books, 2010) by Rachel Toor.