BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
This is the third chapter of a four-part series about Gareth Mclean (Read part two here).
THE SA schools athletics meeting was held at Jubilee Park, Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape in 1971. In those days the colleges were allowed to compete with the high schools. Hewat Training College in Crawford, Cape Town competed on a regular basis in schools’ meetings since 1964-1980.
“In the boys’ open age group in 1971, I ran against Herman Gibbs of Hewat (WP) in the 100m and 200m races. Gibbs was the South African boys open champion at that time. Gibbs won the 100m with me coming in second. I turned the tables on him and beat him in the 200m, with Gibbs coming in second.”
It appears as though Mclean had entered the boys’ open section in 1971 and not the boys under 19 age group. He was still under 19 in 1972.
In 1972, Mclean started his teacher’s training at Dower Training College in Port Elizabeth. In the boys under 19 age group, he won both his sprint races at the SA schools meeting at the Green Point Track, equalling the 200m record of 22,5 seconds held jointly by Gibbs and Lawrence Jacobs. The record books record this 200m record in 1972.
(there was a boys under 19 age group until 1977 and a boys open age group until 1994)
In 1973 at the SA Schools meeting, Mclean beat Vernon Balie in the 100m and won the 200m in the absence of Balie, with Booysen second, the former Sacos-based South African Rugby Union (Saru) wing.
Move to Cape Town
The following year he moved to Cape Town to attend Hewat Training College where he completed his third-year diploma in Physical Education.
The Physical Education lecturer at Hewat, Jumat Idas, introduced him to the legendary athletics coach Eddie May who already had a number of top athletes in his stable.
At first, May was ‘reluctant’ to take on more athletes.
“Eddie said to Jumat that he was very busy and he did not want to take on any new athletes unless they were dedicated.”
Jumat persisted and Eddie told Mclean to be at the Hewat track by 6am the next morning.
First training session
Mclean was late and was chased away from his first training session with Eddie May.
“I asked Jumat to speak to him again, to give me another chance. The next morning when Eddie arrived at 6, I had already warmed up and was ready to start with the training. I could see that Eddie was pleased but he did not show it.”
The training with coach May was nothing Mclean ever knew. Repetitions of 300m in 37 seconds with five-minute intervals were introduced.
The training under May’s watchful eye paid dividends for Mclean as he went on to become the SA Board’s senior men’s 200m champion and record holder with a time of 21, 3 seconds on the clay track of the Dal Josaphat Stadium, Paarl in 1974. Collier had won the 100m, Mclean second and James third – all in the same time of 10,6 seconds.
Mclean had broken icon Kenny Roman’s SA 200m record of 21,6 seconds set in 1969 – eight years later after seeing an action photo of Roman in the Cape Herald (1966-74).
Heart of gold
The two formed a good coach and athlete relationship so much so that Mclean was welcomed into May’s house.
“I became like a child in his house. I would spend many hours there and eat and talk to him. Under all the tough exterior, Eddie had a heart of gold. I have only the greatest admiration and respect for Eddie May.”
Under May’s guidance, he trained and participated in many races from Western Province schools to WP clubs and SA championships.
May, while on vacation in Cape Town several times, spoke proudly of his sprinters and relayed what Mclean said.
May’s house was filled with top-notch athletes, mainly sprinters and May would retreat to the caravan parked in the yard.
While at Hewat Training College, Mclean did his practice teaching at Belgravia High School in 1974 where he saw Mohammed Paleker train.
“At Belgravia High School, they had an up and coming sprinter in Mohammed Paleker. While Andy was tall, Paleker was even taller with a huge stride. I watched him train and compete while doing my practice teaching at Belgravia High School. Paleker did not train under Eddie May, which gave Andy and me an advantage over him. I ran against both of them at the WP inter-schools meeting as well as at the Champ of Champs. At the Champ of Champs, I won both sprints with Andy James second and Paleker third. I met James at Hewat in 1974. We trained together a few times but we both knew that it will not do for rivals to train together. Andy was a fierce competitor and a very hard worker in training. He was also one of my toughest opponents.”
Of all the rivalries at senior sprint level, arguably, there seemed to have been only one rivalry gracing the grass track of Athlone Stadium in Cape Town during the peak period of track and field athletics in the mid-1970s to have captured the imagination.
The rivalry fell, in part, to the tall Mohammed Hanief Paleker. Little did Athletics Clipboard realise that Hanief Paleker is actually Mohammed Paleker – the speedster from Bellies. “Everyone in my family circle knows me as Hanief Paleker,” says the former Belgravia High School (Bellies) athlete.
The rivalry you may wonder comprised of whom? Well, the Eastern Cape speed merchant Mclean (a student-teacher at Hewat Training College in Crawford, Cape Town) was one, he of the family of famous Eastern Cape sprinters. The other sprinter was the combustible James, capable of setting any race alight – 100m, 200m, and 400m.
James, too, was from Bellies, Spartans, and Hewat.
Add the late Ismail Collier, originally from Natal, who had moved down to the Cape, George Montanus, Vernon Balie and Allan O’Ryan to the threesome, and you get the image of just how competitive these races would have been, the winner changing hands all the time.