BY ALLAN PARROTT
This is the final story of a three-part series, featuring Craig Steyn.
Read part two here: Craig Steyn stamped his authority in 1985
IF his times over the 100m and 200m suggested that he could have been a contender on the world stage, his performances in the long jump leave no doubt that he certainly was world class.
The current world champion in the long jump, Luvo Manyonga, jumped 7.49 at the 2009 African Junior Athletics Championships in Mauritius for his first taste of international success, while 23 years earlier in 1986 Craig jumped 7:37 with no international competition, accolades or incentives. His would-be rival Lionel Williams of Gordon High School cleared 7,57m in the boys’ u/17 age group – an all-comers record in 1985.
Craig’s personal bests (PBs) were of such quality that it will even score very high on the current (2016 – 2019) Athletics Performance Evaluation (APE) Tables of Athletics South Africa and SA Schools Athletics. His long jump best of 7.37m scores 930 points, the 100m of 10.4 scores 900 points and the 200m of 21.4 scores 800 points.
For all the other value Craig added, he also brought something else to the club – a whole family. His mother, Cynthia Steyn, gave the kind of support, commonly seen at Model-C schools, but her support was not as stifling. At the athletics track, she was vocal, but her support was not the run-on-the-track-and-fight-with-the-place-judges kind of support. Just as she would be the first in line to get on the first of the 24 buses lining up at the school to leave for Dal Josaphat at eight o’clock on inter-schools Day or Championships Day, she would be the first to volunteer to help at the club’s fundraisers.
Many a Saturday afternoon she would accompany the club to the Vygieskraal Stadium to again be vocal in her support. The father, Ralph Steyn, seldom attended the meetings, but he was by no means absent. His support was given in a quiet way to his kids, from Rubin (400m, 800m and 1500m), Craig, Pearl (shot put, discus and javelin), Tyrone (high jump and triple jump) and Morné who represented Boland in Senior Schools in cricket. Financially, it must have been a strain to the family to have five children achieving in sport at more or less the same time – all those snacks, tracksuits, blazers and trips – must have cost a pretty penny.
“I have enjoyed my competitive years immensely, running against competitors whom I knew had it just as tough as I had it in our personal circumstances. And my respect for them grew out of this understanding. The three competitors I respected the most were, Festus Faroa, Shaun Vester, and Havilyne Elders.
Ian Rutgers and Edmund Lewis
These three would gain five metres on me at the gun and their sheer speed made it almost impossible to catch up with them in a 100-metre race. It was almost unfair! Of the senior athletes whom I was fortunate to have seen in action, but never had the privilege to compete against, were Ian Rutgers, in the twilight of his career during his comeback, Edmund Lewis, also in the twilight of his career, Rakesh Shewduth of Natal and Kevin Nicholas of Boland,” said Craig.
His only regret is that he never tested himself over the 400m distance in an organised race.
Craig and Havilyne Elders would be competitors again years later at a friendly rugby match at Cloetesville High School. Both were teachers at their almae maters at the time, Craig at Cloetesville and Havilyne at Bellville South. But this time they were not pitted directly against each other. Havilyne played wing and Craig played No 8 and the crowd was only about 200 strong.
Craig enjoyed competing in the Sacos fold, because he believed in “No normal sport in an abnormal society!” The family’s removal from Die Vlakte when he was very young left an indelible mark on his psyche and hastened his political schooling. He was under no illusion that participating under the Sacos banner will make him rich and famous, but he was sure that it will mean something in the future to his children and that he will be able to share those experiences with them.
Importance of history
He hopes that his grandchildren will grow up in a different time, and people will still understand the importance of history. We must learn from it in order to go into the future and not repeating the mistakes of the past – respice prospice (we look back in order to look forward).
How long is a career for an elite athlete? Some research shows that an elite athlete (especially elite school athletes) can stand the physical strain and mental pressure of competing in front of and for demanding audiences, such as schools, towns, provinces, and countries, for an average of 12 years. For a few rare individuals, an elite career will span more than the 12 years.
Career spanning 12 years
However, for Craig, 12 years was what he was willing to sacrifice at the altar of athletics and during those 12 years, he gave it his all. The spectators who turned up in their thousands at athletics tracks and stadiums all over the country caught a glimpse of true class as they watched him on his way to victory in countless 4 x 100m relays, 100m and 200m races and gravity-defying high jumps and long jump events.
Life goes on
Karel Schoeman in his 1965 novel, Hart van die son compares achieving greatness to an eagle who soars up in the sky until he stares into the heart of the sun with an unwavering gaze. But the eagle must return to milder heights and give way to other eagles to try and do the same. This stands true of Craig Steyn’s athletics career. During the early eighties and up to 1986, Craig Steyn’s star shone as bright as it could. And, like the eagle, his career returned to milder heights, because as Craig maintained: “We cannot dwell in the past forever. Life goes on!”
Today, living in the Strand, Craig is enjoying life with his wife, Lucretia, and daughters, Zenia and Terry-Lee and son Morgan and two granddaughters Luna and Lyra with the same positive outlook on life and gusto which he displayed throughout his athletics career.
Allan Parrott was an Afrikaans teacher and athletics and cross-country coach at Cloetesville High School from 1983 to 1996. As a coach of the Stellenbosch Amateur Athletics club, he followed Craig’s athletics career from 1978 with interest and from time to time had a hand in his coaching until October 1984 when he took over Craig’s coaching.