BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
This is the first chapter of a four-part series about the former Eastern Province champion sprinter Gareth Mclean who stamped his authority on Western Province and South African athletics in the early to mid-1970s.
GARETH Mclean had the pedigree and mental fortitude since school days to become a great sprint champion of the Sacos-based South African Amateur Athletic Board.
He represented the Eastern Province Senior Schools Sports Association since the late 1960s and graduated to senior level where he had an even greater impact on the sport.
Gareth’s big test at senior schools’ level was against the imposing John Wippenaar of Western Province at an SA schools meeting in Johannesburg in 1970 where he ran second to ‘Wippie’ in the 100m and 200m. Wippenaar astounded the athletics fraternity with a stunning time of 10,6 seconds in the boys under 17 100m race. In the 200m, he had clocked 22,6 seconds.
While Wippenaar’s career was waning towards senior level where he ran into the likes of Herman Gibbs, Jackie Swanepoel, Henry Davids and several other top sprinters, Mclean made the step-up and relished the challenge of first Gibbs, George Montanus, Vernon Balie, Andy James, Allan O’Ryan, and the smooth-striding Mohammed Paleker.
Anyone who knows about sprint athletics in the Cape, these were the men who enjoyed an unbridled rivalry from 1971 to 1977 – all sprint champions at various stages of their careers.
Then there had been a prickly sprinter from Natal by the name of Ismail Collier, himself an SA Schools sprint champion in 1972 who would on occasion upset the sprinters from the Cape. Collier won the SA senior men’s sprint titles in 1973 (his first year as a senior sprinter), 1974 and 1975. Mclean finished second in the 200m. Montanus was second to Collier in the 100m.
Mclean, of course, had several successes at schools’ level. One such notable success was when he, aged 18, had beaten Gibbs in the boys open 200m at the SA schools meeting at Jubilee Park in Uitenhage in 1971. Gibbs won the 100m.
No place to hide
Another was when he defeated the WP sprint champion Vernon Balie in the boys open 100m in a time of 10,4 seconds at an inter-provincial meeting at the Athlone stadium in 1973. South African Rugby Union wing Desmond Booysen (EP) finished third in the 100m and second in the 200m race.
But these victories would change hands at schools and the clubs’ meetings as well as at national school and Board level. There was no place to hide, the tension was palpable, false starts were not far away and even the place judges had a hard time in separating these top-notch sprinters with the naked eye.
Mclean reached the pinnacle in the sport in 1974 while a student-teacher at Hewat Training College when he won the senior men’s 200m in a SA record time of 21,3 seconds in Paarl. Collier and Montanus finished second and third respectively. This after three athletes were given the same time of 10,6 seconds in the 100m; Collier, Mclean, and James.
Mclean’s time of 21,3 seconds, having broken icon Kenny Roman’s senior men’s 200m record of 21,6 seconds has secured his place in the history of Sacos athletics.
He led a family of sprinters.
Younger brother Robin was the Sacos-based SA Board’s 100m and 200m champion in 1979 and also a junior Springbok athlete in the time of Peter Ngobeni and Wessel Oosthuizen in the 1980s.
Gareth Mclean remained in the fold of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos).
The youngest brother, the late Aladdin Mclean represented EP at schools and clubs level in the early 1980s.
But when and where did his interest in the sport begin for Gareth Mclean?
“I attended Springfield primary school in Fairview, Port Elizabeth. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always loved participating in sport. I played every ball game in primary school and ran in the inter-house athletics meetings. Other than the inter-house meeting, there wasn’t much organised primary school sport after that,” said Mclean.
- Next on Athletics Clipboard Mclean, the Cape Herald and sprint heroes Kenny Roman and Cecil Blows.