BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
THIS is the final chapter of a three-part series about former star Johan Landsman who met Mandela for the first time at the Peninsula Technikon in Bellville (read part two here Landsman remembers his roots)
ISAAC “Sakkie” Opperman of Titans was Landsman first coach, a formidable cross-country runner and 5000m track athlete at Western Province senior schools and WP club level. Opperman was the SAAAB junior men’s 3000m champion in 1985. He was subsequently selected to the first SAAAB team in 1985.
“He was my coach up to a point until I had gone to compete in an 800m race at the University of the Western Cape in 1987.
“I couldn’t keep it from Isaac [Opperman] because he would have seen the results in the newspaper.”
He explained himself to Opperman whom he says he has the greatest respect for.
“I told him about the race, and the one thing that stood out for me during our conversation was that Sakkie, as we called him, said that he didn’t know how to get me to run faster than 1:52 in the 800m. For that I respected him. Sakkie then said that he would find me a coach to make me a better athlete. That is how we got to Bobby McGee [the coach]. As I saw my talent develop under McGee, I told myself that I want to be the best middle distance runner in the country.”
McGee and Kriel
Landsman’s move to Bobby McGee at Stellenbosch saw him improve in leaps and bounds.
“If I improved in the manner I did, imagine how Tessa [Hefele] would have improved given her natural ability or how fast Suezette Arendse would have run if she had been with a top sprint coach such as Hennie Kriel,” he questioned.
It was not so much that he wanted Springbok colours than to demonstrate to all South Africans that he was capable of wearing those colours “as it was seen as the benchmark of excellence at the time”. It was the “epitome of national honours only to be afforded to white athletes previously.
‘To be the best’
“My goal was to be the best in the country and qualify for Springbok colours.
“I never had the drive to break the SA 1500m record, I wanted to run the Springbok qualifying time. When I look at my SA record, and the Springbok qualifying time [3 minutes 38 seconds], then the Springbok qualifying time stood out in my career.”
He had run the 3:38 at Coetzenburg, Stellenbosch, near Cape Town in 1990.
“On that day, I had the entire support of Coetzenburg. It was home ground advantage for me. When I replay the videos, then I see people across the colour line supporting me, including white people who had stood up in the grandstand and applauded me and not Johan Fourie [whom he had beaten in the race]”.
He said the 3.33 in Zurich [3 minutes and 33,56 seconds] didn’t excite him as he did not realise that he had broken the SA 1500m record of 3:33,87.
He didn’t even realise that he had broken Fourie’s record until Elana van Zyl (Meyer) came up to him in the warm up area at the Zurich meeting and told him to check.
“I then went to check and saw that I had just about broken his record,” says Landsman.
“I was sixth in the world at that stage.”
The winner of the race was the world record holder Noureddine Morceli of Algeria who has a best of 3:27,37.
A third Johan, Johan Cronje broke the 20-year-old record of Landsman in Doha in 2013 when he clocked 3 minutes 33,46 seconds.
Unity talks were rife by 1989 already and the athletes who had joined the SAAAU between 1989-1992 (1992 being the year South Africa had been readmitted to the Olympic Games in Barcelona) told themselves, ‘the only way to keep their critics quiet was to perform at the highest level among the best the country had to offer’.
Athletes of the defunct SAAAB such as Shawn Abrahams, Jowaine Parrott, Farwa Mentoor, Donavan Wright, Jantjie Marthinus and Melody Marcus, to mention a few, were highly successful nationally and had the opportunity to compete internationally. Of this group, Landsman was the most successful.
Landsman met Nelson Mandela after his release in February 1990, the year he qualified for Springbok colours, and his meeting with Mandela “convinced him that he made the correct decision to affiliate with a SAAAU club”.
The meeting took place at the old Peninsula Technikon in Bellville where Mandela met with the students of the University of the Western Cape and the Peninsula Technikon.
“The meeting meant a lot to me because Sacos labelled me as a puppet. Our meeting gave me another perspective of the Sacos slogan of ‘no normal sport in an abnormal society’ and convinced me that I made the correct decision not only for myself but also for the country.”
Born in Parow
Landsman was born in Parow in 1964 and grew up in Tiervlei and Ravensmead. When he was in Std 2 (grade 4) his father had bought a wine and milk farm in Ashton. He attended Scottsdene Senior Secondary School in Kraaifontein and enrolled to study law at the University of the Western Cape in 1984, the year he took an interest in athletics.