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Zola Budd

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Zola Budd
Budd at the 1986 European Championships
Personal information
Born (1966-05-26) 26 May 1966 (age 58)
Bloemfontein, South Africa[1]
Height164 cm (5 ft 5 in)[1]
Weight40 kg (88 lb)
Event800 m – marathon
ClubAldershot, Farnham & District AC[1]
Achievements and titles
Personal bests
  • 800 m – 2:00.9h (1984)
  • 1500 m – 3:59.96 (1985)
  • 1 mile – 4:17.57 (1985)
  • 3000 m – 8:28.83 (1985)
  • 5000 m – 14:48.07 (1985)
  • 10,000 – 36:44.88 (2012)
  • Half marathon – 1:11:04 (1997)
  • Marathon – 2:55:39 (2012)[2][3]
Medal record
Women's Cross Country
Representing  England
World Cross Country Championships
Gold medal – first place 1985 Lisbon Individual Women
Gold medal – first place 1986 Nieuwegein Individual Women

Zola Budd (also known as Zola Pieterse; born 26 May 1966) is a South African middle-distance and long-distance runner. She competed at the 1984 Olympic Games for Great Britain and the 1992 Olympic Games for South Africa, both times in the 3000 metres. In 1984 (unratified) and 1985, she broke the world record in the 5000 metres. She was also a two-time winner at the World Cross Country Championships (1985–1986).[4] Budd mainly trained and raced barefoot. Her mile best of 4:17.57 in 1985 stood as the British record for 38 years until Laura Muir ran 4:15.24 on 21 July 2023.

She returned to South Africa in 1989, and represented South Africa at the 1992 Summer Olympics. She moved with her family to South Carolina, USA in 2008; and competed at marathons and ultramarathons. She moved back to South Africa in 2020–2021.

Athletics career[edit]

5000 metres world record[edit]

Budd, who was born in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa, achieved fame in early 1984, at the age of 17, when she broke the 5000 m world record with a time of 15:01.83.[5] Since her performance took place in South Africa, then excluded from international athletics competition because of its segregation policy, the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) refused to ratify Budd's time as an official world record.

In 1985, she claimed the world record officially, while representing Great Britain, clocking 14:48.07.[6]

Arrival in Britain[edit]

The Daily Mail, a British tabloid newspaper, persuaded Budd's father to encourage her to apply for registration as a British citizen, on the grounds that her grandfather was British, to circumvent the international sporting boycott of South Africa, so that she could compete in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. With a strong push from the Daily Mail, registration as a British citizen was granted in short order and she moved to Guildford. Her application and arrival was controversial due to her acquiring a passport so quickly. Groups supporting the abolition of apartheid campaigned to highlight the rapid treatment she received; applicants for naturalisation typically had to wait years for their applications to be considered.

Shortly afterwards, Budd was forced to pull out of a 1500 metres race in Crawley, Sussex, when the town council withdrew their invitation at short notice. The race was part of the inaugural event for the town's new Bewbush Leisure Centre and Mayor Alf Pegler said members of the council had expressed misgivings that the local significance of the event would be overshadowed by "political connotations and anti-apartheid demonstrators".[7]

She ran her first competitive race on the cinder track at Central Park in Dartford, Kent, covering 3000 m in 9:02.6 in a race shown live on the BBC's Grandstand.[8] She ran in further races in Britain, including the UK Championships 1500 m (won in 4:04) and the 3000 m in the UK Olympic trials, which she won in 8:40, earning a place on the British Olympic team. In the 2000 m at Crystal Palace in July 1984 she set a new world record of 5:33.15.[9] Commenting during the race for the BBC, David Coleman exclaimed, "The message will now be flashed around the world – Zola Budd is no myth."

In Britain, Budd trained at Aldershot, Farnham and District Athletics Club.

1984 Olympic 3000 metres[edit]

Budd (barefoot), Decker, and Puică leading the 3000 m race at the 1984 Olympics

In the 1984 Olympics, held in Los Angeles, California, the media billed the 3000 m race as a duel between Budd and world champion Mary Decker of USA. However, experts expected that Decker's main competition would be Romanian Maricica Puică, who had set the fastest time that year.[10]

Decker set a fast pace from the gun with Budd in close pursuit, followed by Puică and Britain's Wendy Sly. When the pace slowed just past the midway point, Budd took the lead on the straight and ran wide of the pack around the turn. Setting the pace, she took herself, Decker, Sly and Puică clear of the pack. Running as a group was an unusual situation for Budd and Decker, both of whom were used to running in front and well ahead of other competitors.[10]

At 1700 metres, the first collision occurred. Decker came into contact with one of Budd's legs, knocking Budd slightly off balance. However, both women maintained their close position. Five strides on, at race time of 4:58, Budd and Decker again made contact, with Budd's left foot brushing Decker's thigh, causing Budd to lose her balance and sending her into Decker's path. Decker's spiked running shoe came down hard into Budd's ankle, just above the heel, drawing blood. Videotapes later examined by Olympic officials showed Budd visibly in pain. However, she maintained equilibrium and kept stride.

Decker stepped on Budd; then, shortly after, she collided with the British runner and fell to the curb, injuring her hip. The fall ended her race, and she was carried off the track in tears by her boyfriend (and later, husband), British discus thrower Richard Slaney.[11]

Budd, deeply affected by the occurrence, continued to lead for a while, but faded, finishing seventh. Her finishing time of 8:48 was well outside her best of 8:37. Budd tried to apologise to Decker in the tunnel after the race, but Decker was upset, and replied, "Don’t bother!"[12] Puică won, with Sly second, and Canada's Lynn Williams third.[10]

An International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) jury found that she was not responsible for the collision. Decker said many years after the event: "The reason I fell, some people think she tripped me deliberately. I happen to know that wasn't the case at all. The reason I fell is because I am and was very inexperienced in running in a pack."[13]

In general, it is the trailing athlete's responsibility to avoid contact with the runner ahead; whether or not Budd had sufficient control of the race to have pulled into the curve as she did was hotly disputed. "This doesn't mean," track journalist Kenny Moore wrote in the aftermath, "that a leader can swerve in with impunity, but that in the give and take of pack running, athletes learn to make allowances."[14] At first the US media sided with Decker, while the British press supported Budd.[citation needed]

In 2002, the moment was ranked 93rd in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Sporting Moments. On an episode of Celebrity Come Dine with Me, Budd stated that she had never seen footage of the collision.[citation needed] Budd and Decker later reunited for a 2016 documentary about the incident, The Fall.[15]

International competition[edit]

Budd competed internationally for the UK in 1985 and 1986. In February 1985, she was World Cross Country Champion (beating Ingrid Kristiansen), but then went on to several track defeats. The most significant of these was her rematch with Mary Decker-Slaney at Crystal Palace in July 1985, in which she finished fourth, some 13 seconds behind Decker-Slaney.

Budd's form improved significantly after this race, however, as she then went on to break the UK and Commonwealth records for the 1500 m (in 3:59.96), the mile (4:17.57), the 3000m (8:28.83) and the 5000m (14:48.07). This last reduced the world record by ten seconds. She was also victor in the European Cup 3000m. Her best times in the 1500m, mile run and 3000m were set in races with Decker-Slaney and Maricica Puică. Budd finished third in all three races, with Decker-Slaney and Puică consistently coming first and second, respectively.

1986 began with a defence of her World Cross Country title and a world indoor 3000m record of 8:39.79. However, after a couple of victories in fast early season times over 1500m (4:01.93) and 3000m (8:34.72), her outdoor track season brought several defeats by athletes she should have beaten easily. She competed in both the 1500m and 3000m at the European Championships but did not win a medal in either, finishing 9th and 4th, respectively. It later emerged that Budd was suffering a painful leg injury for much of the season; she did not compete in 1987 as she sought treatment for this.

Personal life[edit]

Suspension, return to South Africa and marriage[edit]

In 1988, Budd began to compete again with a handful of cross-country runs. However, several African nations claimed she had competed in an event in South Africa and insisted she be suspended from competition. Budd said she only attended the event and did not compete. The International Amateur Athletics Federation upheld this charge and suspended Budd, at which point she returned to South Africa, and retired from international competition for several years.

In 1989, Budd married Mike Pieterse. The couple have three children, daughter Lisa and twins, Azelle and Mike. Also in 1989, Budd published her autobiography, Zola (co-written with Hugh Eley).[12]

On her return to South Africa, Budd began racing again. She had an excellent season in 1991 and was the second-fastest woman in the world over 3000m. Following South Africa's re-admission to international sport, she competed in the 3000m at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona but did not qualify for the final. In 1993, she finished fourth at the World Cross Country championships but would never translate this form on to the track.

Budd remains the holder of numerous British and South African records at junior and senior levels, and still holds two junior world records: the mile and 3000m.

Relocation to U.S.[edit]

Pieterse at the 2012 Comrades Marathon. She finished in seventh place in the 2014 race, and was the first female veteran to cross the line.[16]

Following allegations of her husband having an affair,[17] Budd, under her married name Pieterse, and her three children relocated to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, US, in August 2008; her husband joined them later.[18] She initially had a two-year visa that allowed her to compete on the US masters' circuit. She raced in the South Carolina division of USA Track and Field, winning the women's division of the Dasani Half-Marathon during Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon on 14 February 2009 with a time of 1:20:41.[19]

On 12 January 2012, she announced her participation in the 2012 edition of the nearly 90-kilometre (56 mi) Comrades (ultra)Marathon which was held on 3 June 2012.[20][21] She would also participate in the Two Oceans Marathon during the Easter weekend of 2012 as she trained towards the Comrades Marathon which she ended up finishing in 8:06:09 (she was the 37th female finisher), earning a Bill Rowan Medal.[22] Although she planned to also run the Comrades in 2013 she withdrew due to illness.[23]

In June 2014, Budd entered the Comrades again, hoping for an overall silver medal and for a time under 7 hours 30 minutes (7:30:00).[24] Budd beat her time target, finishing with a time of 6:55:55 and earning a gold medal for a top 10 finish as well as a gold medal as the 1st 'veteran' (senior) finisher while coming in as the 7th female finisher overall (the first six being at least 10 years her junior).[25] Budd dedicated her 2014 Comrades run to South African teacher Pierre Korkie,[26] held captive in Yemen by Al-Qaeda for one year.[27] She was stripped of her 'veteran' gold medal (but not of her cash prize for finishing 7th overall) following accusations that she did not display a small age category tag on her running vest, in addition to the veteran designation already displayed on her running bib.[28] Budd and her coach pointed out that the veteran gold medal and silver medal were then given to two runners who also did not have the small age category tag on their running vests, and announced in September 2014 that they had started court proceedings against the Comrades Marathon Association to have her veteran win reinstated.[28][29]

In March 2015, Budd won the Run Hard Columbia (SC) Marathon in a time of 3:05:27.[30]

As of July 2020, she was an Assistant Cross Country and Girls Track Coach at Conway High School in Conway, South Carolina; and volunteered as assistant coach at Coastal Carolina University, also in Conway.[31][32]

She moved back to South Africa in 2021.[33]

Cultural impact[edit]

In South Africa today, township taxis are nicknamed "Zola Budd" for their speed.[34] The singer Brenda Fassie (whom Time magazine called "the Madonna of the townships" in 2001) had a hit single in the 1980s with her track "Zola Budd". On 20 July 2012 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a play by Richard Monks about the political and media actions taken to bring Zola Budd to Britain with her father at the age of 17, the script implying she was unwilling and homesick.[35]

Personal bests[edit]

Event Time Date Location
Outdoor 800 m 2:00.9.h 16 March 1984 Kroonstad, South Africa
1000 m 2:37.9h 7 February 1983 Bloemfontein, South Africa
1500 m 3:59.96 30 August 1985 Brussels, Belgium
Mile 4:17.57 21 August 1985 Zürich, Switzerland
2000 m 5:30.19 11 July 1986 London, England
3000 m 8:28.83 7 September 1985 Rome, Italy
2 mile 9:29.6h 9 June 1985 London, England
5000 m 14:48.07 26 August 1985 London, England
10000 m 36:44.88 9 March 2012 Myrtle Beach, United States
Indoor 1500 m 4:06.87 25 January 1986 Cosford, England
3000 m 8:39.79 8 February 1986 Cosford, England

International competitions[edit]

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  Great Britain /  England
1984 Olympic Games Los Angeles, United States 7th 3000m 8:48.80
1985 World Cross Country Championships Lisbon, Portugal 1st 5 km 15:01
1985 European Cup Moscow, Soviet Union 1st 3000m 8:35.32
1986 World Cross Country Championships Neuchatel, Switzerland 1st 4.7 km 14:49
1986 European Championships Stuttgart, Germany 9th 1500m 4:05.32
4th 3000m 8:38.20
Representing  South Africa
1992 Olympic Games Barcelona, Spain 25th (heats) 3000m 9:07.10
1993 World Cross Country Championships Amorebieta, Spain 4th 6.4 km 20:10
1994 World Cross Country Championships Budapest, Hungary 7th 6.2 km 21:01
2003 London Marathon London, United Kingdom DNF
2007 Kloppers Marathon Bloemfontein, South Africa 1st 3:10:30
2008 New York City Marathon New York, United States 69th 2:59.53
2011 Kiawah Island Marathon Kiawah Island, United States 5th 3:01:51
2012 Myrtle Beach Marathon Myrtle Beach, United States 3rd 3:00:14
2012 Jacksonville Marathon Jacksonville, United States 4th 2:55:39
2014 Charleston Marathon Charleston, SC, United States 1st 2:59:42
2015 Run Hard Columbia Marathon Columbia SC, United States 1st 3:05:27
2017 Stirling Scottish Marathon Stirling, United Kingdom 9th 3:12:24


  1. ^ a b c "Zola Budd-Pieterse". Sports-Reference. Archived 3 December 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Zola BUDD-PIETERSE". World Athletics.
  3. ^ "Zola Pieterse". Track and Field Statistics.
  4. ^ Mackay, Duncan; Meldrum, Andrew (10 August 2005). "Zola Pieterse finds peace in native land". The Guardian. London.
  5. ^ Zola Budd's brief but controversial international track and field..., Mike Collett, UPI, 1 November 1984
  6. ^ "1985: Budd smashes 5,000m record". BBC On This Day. 26 August 2005.
  7. ^ "SPORTS PEOPLE; Miss Budd Withdraws". The New York Times. 19 April 1984.
  8. ^ "Dartford Harriers History". Dartford Harriers Athletic Club. Archived from the original on 30 June 2010.
  9. ^ Perkiömäki, Mika. "World Record progression in women's running events". World-Wide Track & Field Statistics On-Line DoIt.
  10. ^ a b c Athletics at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games: Women's 3,000 metres. sports-reference.com
  11. ^ Galford, Ellen (1996). The XXIII Olympiad. Los Angeles: World Sport Research & Publications Inc. p. 184. ISBN 1-888383-21-6.
  12. ^ a b Zola Budd; Hugh Eley (1 January 1989). Zola: The Autobiography of Zola Budd. Partridge. ISBN 978-1-85225-089-8.
  13. ^ Parker-Pope, Tara (1 August 2008). "An Olympic Blast From the Past". Well – Tara Parker-Pope on Health.
  14. ^ Moore, Kenny (20 August 1984). "Triumph And Tragedy in Los Angeles". Sports Illustrated.
  15. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (21 July 2016). "The Fall review – Mary Decker and Zola Budd reunite for dramatic finale". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2024.
  16. ^ Rondganger, Lee (12 June 2014). "Budd stripped of Comrades win". Independent Online. South Africa. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  17. ^ Independent Newspapers Online (15 April 2006). "Zola left in tears yet again". Independent Online. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  18. ^ Turnbull, Simon (8 July 2011). "Olympic Diary: Budd rolls back the years but time can't heal Wade's wounds". The Independent. Archived from the original on 7 May 2022. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  19. ^ Longman, Jeré (27 October 2008). "An Olympian's Path Toward Inner Peace". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
  20. ^ "Comrades Marathon Results". Archived from the original on 18 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  21. ^ "Budd completes first Comrades". Sport24 South Africa. 3 June 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  22. ^ "Comrades Marathon Results History". results.ultimate.dk. Retrieved 19 October 2018.
  23. ^ "Comrades Heartbreak for Zola". South Africa. 30 May 2013. Archived from the original on 20 August 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2014.
  24. ^ Ballantyne, Tommy (31 May 2014). "Comrades a test of true grit". Independent Online. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Comrades Marathon @ UltimateLIVE". ultimate.dk. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  26. ^ "Jacaranda FM – Budd dedicates run to Korkie". Jacaranda FM. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  27. ^ Sapa (17 May 2014). "Pierre Korkie still captive in Yemen one year on". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 16 July 2015.
  28. ^ a b "Budd stripped of Comrades win". The Independent. South Africa. 12 June 2014.
  29. ^ Gerald Imray (26 September 2014). "Zola Budd taking athletics authorities to court". ESPN. Associated Press. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  30. ^ Run Hard Results. runhardcolumbiamarathon.com
  31. ^ Wooten, Eddie (2014). Zola Budd Pieterse: 'I couldn't ask for anything more', news-record.com
  32. ^ Quick, David (18 January 2014).Zola Budd Pieterse wins Charleston Marathon, The Post and Courier
  33. ^ Zola Budd is happy to be back in South Africa after being away for 12 years, News24, 21 October 2021
  34. ^ Kentridge, Matthew (1990). An Unofficial War: Inside the Conflict in Pietermaritzburg. David Philip. p. 29. ISBN 9780864861603.
  35. ^ "Afternoon Drama – Zola". BBC. 20 July 2012. Retrieved 20 July 2012.

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by Women's 5000 m Best Year Performance
Succeeded by