Mossel Bay’s James showed up in the red-hot cauldron of Cape sprinting

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BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS

This is the final story, featuring Andy James.

Read part one here: How church athletic meetings inspired champion sprinter Andrew James

IN the blue ribbon event, the 100m, a muscular James powered to victory in the 100m ahead of Mclean and Paleker. James also won the 400m.

Mclean, who proved to have been a much better 200m runner, won the 200m at the A-Section held at the Athlone Stadium in 1974, beating Paleker and Selwyn Steyn of Belgravia High.

Gareth Mclean, right, of the Eastern Cape, was part of a core of superb sprinters at the time of being a student teacher at Hewat Training College in Cape Town in the early to mid-1970s.

At the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union’s (WPSSSU) champ of champs in 1974, Mclean reversed the result in the 100m with James second and Paleker third.

Mclean nailed the 200m with Paleker second and A van der Burg third. James won the 400m.

Mclean’s 21,3 seconds in the 200m

Mclean also won the South African senior men’s 200m race in a record time of 21,3 seconds in 1974 in Paarl. The 100m went to Collier in 10,6 seconds, with Mclean and James given the same time for second and third place respectively.

In 1975, it was Paleker’s turn to win the 100m and 200m at the champ of champs. By this time, Eddie May had been coaching some of the Cape’s top sprinters, including Paleker.

The sprint results went to and fro whenever these talented crop of sprinters competed and make no mistake temperatures soared with tempers lost.

Collier’s 21,1 seconds in the 200m

Ismail Collier, Allan O’Ryan, Andy James and Gavin Benjamin.

In 1975, Collier won the SAAAB senior men’s 100m in 10,6 seconds and the 200m in 21,1 seconds for a new SA record. Paleker was second in both races.

Mclean did not compete at the SA’s in 1975 as he wasn’t selected by WP owing to the previous season‘s performances which the selectors did not accept (December 1974).

Disqualification

Collier would complain of being harassed by the WP athletes and Mclean would dispute a placing, and in between, there were some noteworthy disqualifications – especially at the Athlone Stadium.

There was no place to hide as week-in and week-out they would be there competing and inflicting more pain on each other.

Eddie May, the well-known athletics coach from Cape Town.

For these tough competitions, they had to prepare adequately.

Eddie May started coaching James in 1975 while he was completing his final year at Hewat.

‘Horse Killer’

“We [Mclean, Paleker, James and Norma Joseph] called Mr May the Horse Killer. He was never satisfied with my performances whether it was in training or competition. He brought many changes to the sport and particularly coaching. He manufactured starting blocks from flat steel for several athletes. Mr May worked across the athletics spectrum in the interest of athletics,” recalls James.

James started teaching at Disa Primary School in Bonteheuwel in 1976 while Mr T McMillan was the principal. While there, James was involved in primary school athletics for the next 30 years over and above his officiating duties at senior athletics level.

James the principal

By 1980, James had been promoted to head of department and by 1988 he was the deputy principal to Mr R Esau.

James became the principal the following year. He retired in 2016.

Testing skills

As a young teacher, James would compete in senior athletics until 1979 when he made the conscious decision to test his skills against the establishment.

The City and Suburban Rugby Football Union slapped a four-year ban on Andy James for his involvement in establishment sport as an athlete in the late 1970s.

He met Donald Timm in 1979 who was the chairperson of the Pinelands Amateur Athletics Club.

“My only reason for joining Pinelands was to show that our athletes could compete against them [whites],” says James.

He said with the “same facilities and competition, we can be better than them”.

Improved his time

He had improved his time over the 400m. James was the SAAAB 400m champion in 1977 and 1978 at senior men’s level.

“I ran a personal best electronic time of 48,2 seconds at Coetzenburg in 1980. In the 100m I was able to compete against the Cape’s top sprinters Kevin Campbell junior national sprint champion of Rhodesia [Zimbabwe], Vincent Edgar, Johan Bezuidenhout. At times, the athletes from the north such as Peter Ngobeni and Erich Essman [national champions] competed in the Cape,” recalls James.

Played rugby

He competed in mainly white competitions for two seasons to which the anti-apartheid sports organisation the South African Council on Sport (Sacos) took exception. He was subsequently slapped with a four-year ban by Sacos. He was also suspended by rugby while playing for Progress RFC at City Park, Crawford in Cape Town.

Andy James initially played wing for the Universals rugby club in the 1970s but switched allegiance to Progress in the 1980s where he played at No.8 in the fold of the Sacos-based City and Suburban Rugby Football Union.

James wanted this part of the story to be told and made no apology for his actions.

While interviewing James, the intrinsic characteristic which shone through is his love for athletics since the first day in Mossel Bay when he won a 75m race at an inter-church meeting.

Camaraderie

His love for athletics continued at Belgravia High School where he received his first pair of spikes from Britten, his coaching and nurturing from May, the camaraderie from his buddies Gavin Benjamin, Desmond Newman and the Davids’ brothers, William and Christopher.

The fact that he returned to the Sacos fold in the 1980s showed that James was a community man. His love for athletics continued as an official starter, and he moved from the wing at Universals to No.8 at Progress Rugby Club.

He started the Bonteheuwel Athletics Club in 1997.

Mary Harding

He is also involved with coaching the Eros, Mary Harding, Valkenberg schools for the mentally handicapped.

His love for the sport never waned. At the time of ‘unity’, he was the starter at the Engen Series in Cape Town. These were international events and James was an international starter.

He served on all the athletic commissions (technical, coaches, cross country, road running, track and field, and board member).

The future

He lists some of them as being the WPA CC chairperson, General Secretary Western Cape Schools Cross Country / Western Province Schools Cross Country / Exco member of WP Primary Schools Athletics (over 25 years). He received the WP Athletics Honoris Causa in 2010.

Former champion sprinter Andy James can be found ploughing back into athletics as a top official at athletics events.

James can still be found officiating at road, cross-country and track and field meetings.

“There are still a few things I would like to accomplish in athletics before I retire from the sport,” says James.

Family

James was married to Lavona Harris who sadly passed on their wedding anniversary 21 November 2011. They were married for more than 30 years.

She was the deputy principal at Belgravia High School – the school Andy attended as a pupil and athlete.

They have two sons Kieran and Brad. Brad is a professional rugby player overseas/ director of sport at a private school in St Edmund Bury and the younger son Kieran stays with his dad.

Brad and his Irish wife Onaugh have two sons David and Kieran.

They live in South London, Suffolk, Stowmarket.

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