ANDRE Alexander was dynamite personified: explosive out of the blocks and lightning fast around the curve in the 200m. He made such an impact as an athlete, that he is revered to this day. Though Alexander can boast many firsts on the athletics track, athletics only made it to third place in his old scrapbook – trawling behind his first loves of football and baseball.
“It was tough being an athlete, the training was far more intense than team sports,” he recalls.
Alexander had three golden years during the 1980s as a pupil at Spes Bona High School, a boys’ only school that also produced champion sprinters Gavin Benjamin, John Wippenaar, Terry February, Edmund Lewis and Wilton Pick.
Lewis, a former SA senior men’s sprint champion and record holder, was the athlete that Alexander most admired.
Says Alexander: “He was the best sprinter I have seen at Athlone Stadium. His technique and composure, at full speed, were magnificent to watch. He looked very relaxed while sprinting, as it should be.”
Alexander comes from a family that excelled in sport. His elder sister Sharon, who was an SA record holder in the sprints and long jump, and also made a name for herself in netball, softball and hockey, had a major influence on him.
She took her younger sibling along to the Athlone stadium in the mid-1970s – not just to watch athletics, but also to participate in the under 11 sprints races (75m and 150m), which he enjoyed very much. Though the young Andre was rather small for his age and beaten by his competitors, success was on the horizon.
“My sister Sharon was my role model. She taught me that I needed to work really hard if I wanted to achieve my school boy dreams,” Alexander says.
He attended Thornton Road Primary School in Crawford, before spending one year at Turfhall Primary School (Thornton Road did not offer Standard 6/grade 8) and completing high school at Spes Bona.
It was at Thornton Road Primary where Alexander met Mrs Yvonne Kleintjies (the mother of baseballer Riaan Kleintjies), who would recognise his talent and have a profound influence on him. “She saw something in me that I did not believe I had,” Alexander says. “She would put me through my paces after school,” he remembers fondly. Honeyside Road is a quiet road that runs parallel with Thornton Road Primary School, and it was on this road that he would practise his sprints.
While at Thornton Road Primary School, Alexander qualified for the inter-union primary schools by representing the Athlone Union up to 1976.
Two years later, while, at Turfhall Primary, he injured his hamstring on his right leg and, as a result, was unable to compete in the boys under 14 sprints that year.
After moving to Spes Bona High School in 1979, he was still enthusiastic about athletics, but missed out on a place in the under 15 age group, to Alexander Sinton High’s Theodore Williams and Caval Marthinussen of Parkhood High.
Marthinussen was to become a great rival of Alexander. He remembers how Marthinussen toyed with him and Williams when they were still juniors in the 150m. “Caval would run ahead, slow down, and when we got closer he would run away again – sort of a push and pull effect. I didn’t like it.”
Spartans Amateur Athletics Club
Alexander at this stage, 1979, was a fully fledged member of the Spartans Amateur Athletics Club. His sister Sharon was an established member of the club already.
Under the watchful eyes of Christy Davids and Allan O’Ryan, two senior athletes at the club, he would train in Newlands Forest and on the sand dunes of Strandfontein and Muizenberg beaches respectively.
“We did circuit training and track work as well,” he says.
Alexander’s fitness and conditioning were slowly coming together.
At the Champ of Champs in 1980, Marthinussen, wearing the red vest of Parkwood High, scorched to a new WPSSSU 100m record in 11,1 seconds, breaking John Wippenaar’s old mark of 11,2. Alexander came a close second. This was the start of a short, but intense rivalry in the 100m.
However, in Alexander’s signature event, the 200m, he streaked past an indifferent Marthinussen, who was playing the fool by waving to the spectators on the stand. Marthinussen knew that second place was his in order to qualify for the Western Province team. The Cape Herald captured this photograph. Marthinussen played down the race as he was not able to match Alexander over 200m.
Earlier in the 1980 season, at Spes Bona’s sectional meeting, Alexander set a WPSSSU record time of 22, 6 seconds in the boys under 16 200m on the grass at Athlone Stadium. It was a hot day and so was the race, as the crowd rose to their feet to applaud Alexander who was to entertain them for the next three years (ages 16, 17 and open).
Unlike Alexander who remained unbeaten in the 200m in their two-year rivalry, Marthinussen was beaten in the 100m. Alexander had had enough of the fooling around by Marthinussen, and so at the South African Senior Schools Sports Association meeting on Athlone Stadium in 1980, he was to set the record straight, and, boy, he did!
The conditions on Athlone Stadium were damp on the Easter Saturday because of the overnight rain. Under starter’s orders in the boys under 16 100m race, Alexander got off to a dream start and beat Marthinussen in a record time of 10,91 seconds – a new SASSSA record. Alexander went on to win the 200m with Marthinussen second.
The 1981 season was to be their last as rivals. Marthinussen reckoned he owned the blue riband event. They met at the Champ of Champs again, with Marthinussen pipping Alexander in blustery conditions (11,77 seconds). Alexander won the 200m, Marthinussen was second.
The two were picked for the WPSSSU athletics team who would compete at the SASSSA meeting in Johannesburg in 1981. Marthinussen and Alexander were on the bus as WP “team mates”. The charismatic Marthinussen beat Alexander in the 100m in a time of 11,2 seconds. Alexander had to settle for second place in another close race. All the athletics aficionados knew the 200m was Alexander’s, it was just a question of how fast.
Fast it was, he equalled the SASSSA 200m record of 22,2 held by A. Sivansulam of Natal (1975). Marthinussen was out of the placings. It was a short rivalry but an absorbing one. Marthinussen had his way in the 100m, but in the 200m Alexander’s overall fitness and technique proved superior.
“The 200m was the race I felt I ran tactically well, by bursting out of the blocks and into a tight bend, with good stride lengths and maintaining my speed over the last 30m to the tape. I did 300m and 400m repetition runs that assisted me with the endurance factor, thus maintaining speed over the last 25-30m. This was key for the late Ismail Kolia who was the coach at Western Province senior schools. He emphasised the final stage of the 200m. And so we worked at it.”
Great things were expected from Alexander in his final year at school and beyond. Unfortunately, he was to treat the spectators for just one more year in 1982.
Caval Marthinussen did not compete in school athletics in 1982. Instead, a burly sprinter from Bonteheuwel High School, Naziem Moos made his presence felt.
Before the SASSSA champs, in a tune-up race at the Vygieskraal Stadium, Alexander nonchalantly breezed in to win the junior men’s 200m race in 22,18 seconds.
In the South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSSA) championships in 1982, Alexander blitzed to a record time of 10,6 seconds in the 100m – for a change the south-east wind stayed away and the sprinters had the chance to demonstrate their true worth. Alexander wasn’t shy in this respect as his time indicated. In the 200m, he clocked 22,16 secs, just outside Kolia’s SASSSA 200m record of 22 seconds flat set 10 years earlier in 1972. Moos pushed and pressed Alexander in the 100m and 200m races respectively. Alexander was the captain of the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union athletics team in 1982.
Alexander credits Kolia as the sprint coach to have had an effect on his character as a top-class sprinter.
“Kolia was the sprint coach who had the greatest influence on my career,” says Alexander.
His WPSSSU boys under 16 200m record of 22,6 seconds stood until the books closed in 1994, the year South Africa became a democracy. He held the SASSSA boys under 17 200m record of 22,2 set in 1981. His SASSSA 100m record of 10,6 seconds stood until 1992.
At Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union and SASSSA level, Alexander was in the record books. Newspapers and the man (or woman, for that matter) on the street all spoke about Andre Alexander.
National colours in baseball
Little did they know, though, that Alexander would quit athletics and pursue baseball as his preferred summer code of sport.
“I did athletics at school, it was always just going to be at school.”
In those days, baseball wasn’t a code of sport at school. Heaven forbid, we might not have seen him on the track!
Alexander remembers having to play a baseball fixture at William Herbert sports ground after the Champ of Champs in 1982.
“It was an Inter-District night game at William Herbert – Cape District Baseball Union vs WP or Mitchells Plain and I left the Athlone Stadium to fulfil the fixture at shortstop for Cape District because of my love for team sports was greater than for individual sports.”
In 1982, the selectors of the Western Province Amateur Athletics Union had picked Alexander for the WP side to the South African Amateur Athletics Board championships in Paarl. On that day, Alexander was swinging a bat for Wolves at William Herbert sports ground. He did not participate in the SAAAB championships in Paarl in 1982.
Instead, Alexander represented Cape District in baseball and went on to gain national colours with the South African Baseball Association. He was terrific at short stop.
He was in the 1988 Sacos team for baseball and football – the highest level in the sport at the time.
Football for Santos
Alexander was an all-year-round sportsman with football being top of the list.
At school, he was a Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union footballer and later he played professional football for Santos. He captained the Western Province Football Board’s team which included Vincent Barnes, Ronald Campher, Barry Thomas, Deon Warely, Roger Links and Kevin Japtha.
At 17 years old, he was playing football in the company of some of the greats of the game: Duncan Crowie, Boebie Solomons, Trevor Manuel, George van Niekerk and Munsoor Abdullah, at Glendene Football Club.
Incidentally, Solomons and Manuel were also high schools sprint champions.
Both were at Alexander Sinton High School during the glory days of the A Section athletics meetings.
Baseball and football were the two codes of sports that absorbed Alexander and, as a result, he was lost to athletics for good.
For the time he spent on the track, he was worth watching every second of the race.