Polished Landsman remembers his roots

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THIS is the second chapter of a three-part series about former star athlete Johan Landsman.

Read part one here How racial politics barred SA athletes from the international spotlight

DESPITE South Africa having been readmitted to the international sporting world in 1991, Landsman believes the youngsters are “not getting the opportunity or they are not grabbing the opportunity” to be the best in their athletics event of choice.

Landsman says that the greater Cape Town area has unbelievable talent in athletics and in other areas of arts and cultures.

Many believe there are vast reservoirs of untapped talent in the high schools.

“Go to the high schools and go and see the raw talent there, not just in athletics; arts and culture too. Go to the dance clubs and see the performances of the singers and dancers. It’s natural among the people there,” he says.

Hard work

“I read a book titled Talent Is Not Enough in which it details hard work and structure. To my mind, the athletes at the schools are not disciplined enough to attain their goals. Too many of them get involved with the wrong friends and the highly talented ones, some of them, go clubbing and expect to perform at their best the next day. And then there are those athletes who are simply uncoachable; athletes who don’t listen and believe in their coaches. Talent alone is not good enough,” he emphasised.

He said talent was “only the starting point, talent is the foundation”. He says then the hard work starts by putting structures in place.

Johan Landsman, running in his Maties club vest, reigned supreme in the 1500m in the early 1990s. He was the SA record holder over the distance.

Landsman said he was uncertain when he first joined the ranks of the SAAAU in 1989.

He didn’t know whether he had enough talent to compete under the SAAAU, or whether he had enough talent to be an international athlete.

‘Trained hard’

“When I joined Maties I wasn’t even in the top 10 at the club in the middle distance competition.”

And while running under SAAAB he never featured at the SA Championships.

He made a start to athletics in 1984 while at the University of the Western Cape, but only qualified for the Western Province track team in 1987 when the championships were held at the University of Durban-Westville. However, he had qualified for the WP cross-country team earlier.

“I was a complete failure at the SA’s, people thought that I would beat Jantjie [Marthinus]. I never medalled in the 800m, so people thought that I would win the 1500m and, I didn’t medal in the 1500m either,” he says.


Although he believed that he had trained fairly hard at the time, his training efforts were not good enough to compete with the best.

He had trained with his friend Jurie Fieties who was also a member of the Belhar-based Titans Amateur Athletics Club.

“We trained on a loop where Cape Gate stands today [a shopping mall]. There was a farm. We had to cross the N1 from Kraaifontein to get to the farm. There was a long hill which we used to build up strength.

Titans’ road runners in the back row, left: Isaac Opperman, Johan Landsman, Danny Norman, David Leonard, Dogan Wilton, Gary Small. Front row, left: Colin Jeftha, Meris Koks, Rodney de Jager, Sydney Silver and Lavan Johannes.

By the time we got to the hill we had already run 32 minutes, and then we had to get stuck into the hill. We had no formal training. That was our training. We didn’t know about fartlek at the time [Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is a training method that blends continuous training with interval training]. We didn’t do morning jogs. We didn’t use supplements, didn’t do gym work, and I can’t even remember whether we did push-ups!” he says.

‘Best club’

At the time Titans had in its ranks Landsman, Fieties, Isaac Opperman, Rod van der Heyde, Danny Norman, David Leonard, Dogan Wilton, Gary Small, Colin Jeftha, Meris Koks and Sydney Silver as their prominent road runners.

“Titans was one of the best clubs in the country with Colin Jeftha at the helm,” he says.

Jeftha lives with his wife Yolanda and family in Sydney, Australia. Yolanda also played a pivotal role in the administration and the capturing of events, as a photographer, at the club and at provincial level.

Yolanda La Gorce was always on hand to capture the winner.

Says Colin, “When Fieties and Landsman came to UWC we approached them to join us instead of UWC. At the time we were building a culture of road runners in particular. We had already poached Opperman and others were on our radar. My philosophy as coach (in my 20’s) was less of training with them but more in terms of knowing their circumstances and psyche.”

Time trial

Titans played a big role in road running in the fold of the Sacos-affiliated Western Province Amateur Athletics Union, organising a number of road races. This included the SAAAB Marathon Championships in Cape Town in September 1985 in the face of political upheaval and general civil unrest.

“We also had the Titans Time Trial which listed the results in the paper – a first for our sport. Landsman’s first race for us was the Worcester Elsie’s River relay in 1985. We threw him into it at Klapmuts,” says Colin.

Regular runners

Colin remembers Landsman running his first 5km time trial at Titans to the date and time (29 May 1985), in 17 minutes and 23 seconds behind Sidney Silver in 16:19.

Some of the regular runners at the time trial included Freddie Damon, Jantjie Marthinus, Brian Sass, Donald Whitebooi, Mohammed Dawood, Peter Brockman, and Gavin Benjamin.

Freddie Damon, left, was the first to win the Clash of the Titans 10km road race when the Hertz clock (obscured) was introduced by Titans for the first time in 1985. Next to Damon is Jantjie Marthinus and Michael Toll.

“Even the sprinters like the late Godfrey Fitz and Joe Warries ran the time trial. Fitzy ran a sub-20 minute time trial,” says Colin.

Through Colin’s efforts, Titans was the first club who had used a Hertz clock mounted to his red Opel Monza in 1985. This had been done on the occasion of the Clash of the Titans 10km road race. The winner of the inaugural race was Freddie Damon of UWC, a fine exponent of the 800m race and for many years Jantjie Marthinus’ understudy.


Landsman says he has to acknowledge Titans as a top club in South Africa.

“Colin Jeftha had a disciplined structure at Titans which rubbed off on the athletes. Colin created opportunities for us under trying circumstances. Remember the Clash of the Titans 10km Challenge? This was one of the best-organised races in the country because of Colin’s efforts. The race had a high profile.”

To be continued.

2 thoughts on “Polished Landsman remembers his roots

  • July 27, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Dear Publisher, Hi Sydney, my broer….will definitely see you next year, I am having a crack at both Two Oceans and Comrades 60+ age group award…very nice to hear the kind comments from you.
    The situation we were in forced us into involvement and maturity. You were either contributing or you were accepting the system and we all did, yourself at 17 included.
    You would be hard pressed to find 21-year-old today doing what we did, they are all on FB…. but Yolanda and Godfrey (RIP my friend) were both only 21 at the time we organized the national marathon champs in Belhar…read his President’s report in the image of the programme. I was National Road Running Convenor at 26, others before me in other roles much younger, the publisher here Clement, as reporter, in his late teens whilst studying teaching.
    You could not simply run, you had to give something back.

  • July 20, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    Dear Publisher, This report brings back beautiful memories of the 1980s and 1990s. Titans was not only a club, but it was a family. We did everything together. As a junior during that era, Colin, Esmond, Yolanda, Godfrey and Joe played a huge role in the development of the culture of the club. Thanks guys for your contribution. It is because of your role in my life, that I am the person who I am today. I don’t run anymore but I am actively involved in athletics and cross-country coaching at Rosendaal High School.


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