BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
THIS is the final chapter of a two-part series about former star Ronald Williams who held the boys’ open 800m record in 1988.
He was also a team member of the 1988 Sacos team.
In 1988, Ronald Williams was in top form as he shattered the boys’ open 800m record on the grass track of the old Athlone Stadium in Cape Town.
He had clocked a time of one minute and 57 seconds.
“I broke the record twice that year before the Champion of Champions at inter-house and inter school athletics meetings. I had the belief the 800m belonged to Crestway as Colin Jacobs held the record of 1:58, 6 [jointly with J Thomas of Spes Bona, 1973]. I had to beat champion athletes Cecil Witbooi of Ravensmead High and Ebenezer Felix of Scottsville,” says Williams.
Coach Reggie Dreyer
Williams says he was aware of their form and believed “they had peaked too early” in the season.
Williams did not achieve his record-breaking feat on his own steam.
“My training was spot on and up to today, I believe the programme of Sebastian Coe, which Mr [Reggie] Dreyer had used, benefitted me. Mr Dreyer was my best coach and he himself was a former Western Province Senior Schools’ Sports Union and WP club middle distance athlete,” says Williams proudly.
“He knew how to prepare you for the big races. I remember starting my run for the finish line at the 300m mark. The first 400m was quick and it was a question of who could hold out over the last 300m. It was a memorable race as I had recognised champions Witbooi and Felix in the race,” enthuses Williams.
He was sitting in the stands already when he heard that he had broken the WPSSSU boys’ open record on the grass track of the old Athlone Stadium.
“The record was only announced when I was in the stands with my friends, the late Ashley and Keith Robyns,” remembers Williams.
Many of the athletes against whom he had competed or knew about at senior schools would compete at club level too.
Here he ran into the likes of Tobias Philander, Joseph Gysman, Basil Lehman, David Scheepers, Richard Lemmon, Moos Hartnick, Johan Lansdman, Moos Baadjies, Joseph Allie and Martin Saayman in all three disciplines of athletics (track, road and cross country). Competing against quality opposition week in and week out was no child’s play as there wasn’t a certain winner in any discipline.
Williams got an opportunity to take some serious scalps in all three disciplines.
He had beaten the likes of Philander and Gysman, bearing in mind he had taken care of the silky runner Felix and the highly talented Witbooi.
His selection to the senior men’s track team was, therefore, no surprise where he lined up against seven times 800m champion Jantjie Marthinus and Freddie Damon who proved too strong for Williams. Throw in the names of Hermanus Williams and Michael Toll and the quality of the senior men’s competition becomes a whole lot clearer, if not tougher.
He subsequently moved up in distance where he gained success in the steeplechase event with Philander being his main rival. Jerome de Mornay was another who spiced up the competition in the steeplechase races. At most track meetings and championships, he was a podium finisher at senior level as his diplomas indicate.
In 1988 Williams, on the back of his senior schools and string of club athletics’ performances, was selected to the South African Council on Sport (Sacos) track and field team to compete in the steeplechase.
The Sacos athletics team was part of the second Sacos Festival held at the University of the Western Cape, a venue that had been drawn into question by Sacos in 1985 because of its double standards policy and the use of state-sponsored facilities such as universities. The first Sacos Festival was held in 1982 at the Athlone Stadium.
“I was selected to run the steeplechase at the Sacos Festival but Mr Dreyer said I must be the pacemaker in the 800 metres,” he says.
Williams says he felt pretty good and regrets not completing the race. But in the same breath, he had to conserve his energy for the steeplechase race.
“When I got selected to the Sacos team in 1988, I was over the moon as I was selected for something I stood for – no normal sport in an abnormal society. Being selected to the Sacos team was the highlight of my career,” he says.
Thereafter he ran into some problems with his employer at the correctional services department.
“I then went to go and work as a correctional officer and was asked to run for the department of prisons at the time, but I stood my ground and refused to run for the apartheid government. As a result, I was held back when I applied for other and promotional posts. Some of my colleagues who only had grade 10 certificates got promoted ahead of me,” he says disappointingly.
This aberration did not deter Williams as doors opened for him on the evangelical and business front.
He is married to Gail Paul, a former high jumper at Crestway High School.