BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
THE Stephen Cloete story is one of sheer and utter determination to reach the top.
The Livingstone High schoolboy quietly harboured ambitions of being an athlete in the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union team (WPSSSU) and in the South African Senior Schools Sports Association team (SASSSA).
He was a regular at the champion of champions, but somehow he couldn’t crack the province school’s team.
Cloete was an 800m and 1500m finalist in the boys under 14, 15 and 16 age group, but he could not get the better of the seven athletes in the field. This was in the mid-1980s.
He was acutely aware of his limitations and needed some guidance in reaching the top. He often trained at the Vygieskraal Stadium until the day he was spotted by Robin April, the 1968 800m record-holder and champion.
April, at the time, was the club president, if not the owner of the Spartans Amateur Athletics Club based at Vygieskraal. The two forged an athletics relationship that would see Cloete emerge from the shadows of those who had beaten him.
Cloete had come to the right club. Spartans had a reputation of being a top club, if not the club, under the auspices of the Western Province Amateur Athletics Union, of which, you’ve guessed, April was the president.
The club had produced tens of tens of champions over the years from sprinters to middle distance runners to field athletes.
Let’s name drop. In the 70s, the club was home to Andy James, Mohammed Paleker, Sharon Siljeur (Alexander), Norman Willis, Garth Heldsinger Christy Davids and George van der Burg. Nazeem Smith was at the club as an under 12 athlete.
Sharon Price entered the fray in the late 70s, early 80s.
There was another boom period in 1981 for Spartans that lasted through the decade. The athletes included Andre Alexander, Leon Pietersen, Michael Toll, Emeraan Ismail, Kevin Afrika, Henry du Plessis, Dianne Morgan (Carelse), Sharon Brown (Reynolds), Shaheeda Majiet, Nariman Rylands, Tessa Hefele, Odessa Krause, Pierre Abrahams, Aldrige Groener, Jerome Sprinkle and Charles Sprinkle.
Mentor Robin April
Some of the road and cross-country athletes included the evergreen Alex Moses, medical doctor Greg Sampson (paediatrician) and Aldridge Groener.
Head coach Willie Davids had a fantastic crop of athletes to work with.
Cloete credits Robin April as his mentor, not discounting Davids’ influence on him.
It was Davids who had introduced Cloete to the mountains of the Cape.
Cloete joined Sampson, Groener, Moses and Davids in the rugged hills of Newlands Forest that took them to Kirstenbosch and Constantia, and back.
Needing the extra gear to make it to the top, as with so many previous athletes at the club, Newlands Forest had become his playground. Heartbreak Hill near Rhodes Memorial was to break him and build him. The repetitions on the long and short hills of Newlands Forest was the antidote; the corrective measure for any weaknesses in him.
A daily diet, of training two times a day, was just the right medicine for Cloete.
The remedy had been sought. He was up and running.
Athlone Stadium beckoned.
Champion of Champions
The Livingstone athlete, now under 17, was ready. All he had to do was produce the fruits of his labour.
The year 1988 gave Cloete that chance.
The hunger and desire were there and his opponents were there too.
No longer was Cloete just a finalist at the champion of champions. He had become one of the two athletes in the 800m and 1500m to earn WPSSSU colours. His team mate in the 800m was Mark Frank of Woodlands High School in Mitchell’s Plain.
Cloete had made the province team. Dream fulfilled.
At the SASSSA meeting in Eldorado Park, Johannesburg, Cloete was more than good enough to make the SASSSA team, which included the likes of Mark Frank (Woodlands High), Anita Witbooi (Macassar High), Pierre Abrahams (Livingstone High) and Nariman Rylands (Rylands High).
He was in august company.
They would go on to gain province club colours at junior and senior level. For them, athletics continued way beyond the school benches, with even more success.