By CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
FORMER sprint sensation Havilyne Elders had plucked schoolgirl Melody Marcus from the school benches of Bellville South High School and sowed the seeds of a future athletics champion in track, cross country and road races.
Elders, who also taught at Bellville South High School, instilled in Marcus (Cupido) the belief to become a top athlete.
At first, Marcus showed more interest in beauty pageants, but Elders told her that she was “wasting her talent with beauty pageant contests”.
It was during the school training sessions that he spotted her talent, and with her determination and his know how and expertise, he managed to get Marcus, who was in Standard 8 (grade 10), into the Champion of Champions at the Athlone Stadium in 1990.
There she placed third in the 1500m in the company of Farwa Mentoor (Francine Skippers) of Spine Road High School and Belinda Nkonzo of Alexander Sinton and Benita Sauls of Mondale High School.
“He was so sincere that I realised athletics was for me. Mr Elders did the usual thing with athletics training at school at the beginning of the year, sorting out the athletes for the inter-schools meetings,” says Marcus.
Track athletics sowed the seeds of a highly successful cross country career for her, together with road races, and track success in the 1500m.
“In 1991, Mr Elders took me and a number of athletes of our school in his combi to a cross-country race in Tokai. I enjoyed the race and realised I am actually quite good at this running thing.”
Her race at Tokai and her subsequent performances in the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union’s cross country races that year were good enough to get her selected to the WPSSSU team to Port Elizabeth. Her teammates were Skippers (Mentoor), Anvelene Everts and Constance Stuurman. With Skippers as the spearhead, the WPSSSU won the team event.
She also made the South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSA) team in 1991, where at the SAAAB cross country championships in Ceres, she won the senior ladies race ahead of the defending champion Yolanda Daniels of Eastern Province.
Purpose in life
On the face of it, success came easy. But this was far from the reality.
“Our family were backyard dwellers in a gangster-riddled area in Stilwaney, Bellville South. My mother reared us there, me being the eldest of four kids – Ricardo, Dionada and Heinrich” says Marcus.
Athletics gave Marcus a purpose in life and she believes compassionate people such as Elders, Donovan Wright, Kevin Kiewits and the late Roger Adams and Robert Links, helped shape her to being the person she is today.
She currently works for Nike South Africa as a Strategic Account Manager.
When Marcus completed high school, she enrolled at the University of the Western Cape in Human Movement Studies.
Elders introduced Marcus to Adams when she enrolled at UWC in the early 1990s. Elders is a human movement studies graduate of UWC.
“Roger worked in the sports department of the university,” recalls Marcus, who had gone on to become an international athlete during democracy.
“Club mates Donovan (Wright), Kevin (Kiewits and Roger (Adams) saw to it that I had everything from apparel to running shoes and spikes. They even saw to my nutrition and training. We would go on long runs at 4 in the morning and sometimes at 2am,” recalls Marcus.
Her training regime would soon translate into track achievements where she became the South African Amateur Athletics Board (SAAAB) 3000m champion and 1500m champion.
With “unity” on the doorstep of South African sport, Marcus raked in numerous track, road and cross-country victories on a provincial and national level. She wasn’t interested in switching allegiance at the time and remained a staunch supporter of the South African Council on Sport (Sacos).
Release of Nelson Mandela
With the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, the push for participation in international sport by a section of South Africans was gaining momentum.
In 1991, a lily-white cricket team from South Africa was welcomed back into the international fold in Calcutta, India.
It marked the end of sports isolation for South Africa after 21 years, and it sparked mass enthusiasm, if not opportunity, for South Africa’s next generation of sportspersons.
Prior to “unity”, Marcus did remarkably well on the track, road and cross country races, so much so that she had been hounded by some Federation rugby players and former South African Council on Sport (Sacos) athletes, who either crossed the floor or got absorbed into the National Sports Congress (NSC) at the time of unity, to join the athletics unity process.
“Jerome Paarwater and others would visit the sports store where I worked and would make comments such as “why are you still hanging onto SACOS are you afraid of the competition in the white federation?”
Federation rugby (coloured) players had been aligned to the white South African Rugby Board under Danie Craven during apartheid.
And the NSC, aligned to the African National Congress (ANC), was the new broad-based sports movement sweeping the country between 1988 and 1992.
Marcus was a WP and SAAAB athlete in all three disciplines; track, road and cross country by 1992. She held the SAAAB 3000m record and a number of records on the road, including in the 10km, 15km and 21km.
With Sacos athletics dying a slow and an inevitable death, Marcus joined the unity process and so did the UWC athletics club.
Marcus, who had to quit her studies because her mother fell seriously ill, went to work at a sports shop in Bellville.
Here her journey into international sport started.
“Robert Links, who I had worked with, asked me, seriously, what I wanted to do with my athletics career. I told him that I would like to continue and improve my performances, she says.
Her third leg of her athletics journey following Elders and Adams and eventually with Links proved favourable for her at the time.
Her partnership with Robert Links once again proved to be very successful.
Initially battling to beat the white athletes, she soon overhauled a number of them to again qualify for the Western Province and South African team. She also reaped rich rewards in a number of road races.
Under Robert Links’s guidance and leadership, she managed to represent South Africa five times at various World Championships. Her medals, from gold to bronze, lying in between her scrapbook bears this out.
- Chiba Eiken Relay – 1994
- Chiba Eiken Relay – 1995
- World Cross Country Champs in England – 1995
- World Cross Country Champs South Africa – 1996
- World Cross Country Champs in Marrakech – 1998
The highlight of her career, she says, was winning the Ravensmead 15km road race in a course record time of 52 minutes and 22 seconds in 1998.
“For me winning this race in a record time in front of my peeps was an amazing feeling, everybody that was near and dear to me were cheering me on. I was in running heaven,” says Marcus.
The same year, still only 24, she had been selected for the South African cross country team in Marrakech, Morocco.
“It was on this trip that I decided there is no future for me in athletics. The trip was so poorly organised. We, as the South African team, did not even have a sponsor. I decided to focus on my professional career and retired my racing shoe.”
In 2004, after making a comeback, the Sunday Argus wrote:
“Always in the lead, the 30-year-old mother (Marcus/Cupido) clocked 58:36 and continues to show hints of her form of old that made her a multiple provincial champion on the road and cross country circuits.”
Melody Marcus is married to Marshall Cupido, 48, and has two children Neilin, 15 and Milla-Gray, 10.
Her son Neilin represented South Africa in karate last year, and her daughter Milla-Gray is the SA under nine karate champion for the last two years.