BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
“THERE’S nothing better than to run in front of your own school at an athletics meeting on the grass track of the Athlone Stadium.”
The year – 1990! Andre Rhoode running in a “middle to outside lane” dips under 50 seconds – the first boys open runner to do so in the 400m in the fold of the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU).
Rhoode, a former student of Lavender Hill High School, powered his way to a time of 49,6 seconds in the 400m, beating the mark of 50 seconds flat, set as far back as 1973 by another remarkable runner of Elsie’s River Abraham Charles.
“All I remember is that the record stood for a very long time,” said the senior manager at Longbeach’s Pick ‘n Pay.
He broke the record at the Champion of Champions meeting held midweek under floodlights because of the heavy rainfall on the previous Saturday.
“Even though it had rained heavily on the Saturday, I still had to contend with the rain on the following Wednesday when I broke the record,” said Rhoode.
Soggy and heavy going
The grass track at Athlone Stadium in March of that year had to be soggy and heavy going, which puts Rhoode’s performance into perspective.
Rhoode is a big fellow with a strong upper and lower body, and together with his pace, he was perfect for the distance.
He had an intrinsic quality of nailing the last 100m in the 400m which helped him to be fairly consistent in running the race under 50 seconds.
Rare to dip under 50 seconds
At the South African Senior Schools Sports Association’s (SASSSA) track and field championships in Oudtsthoorn in 1990, Rhoode erased the 1978 record of 48,7 seconds set by Boland’s C Solomons. Rhoode lowered the mark to 48,2 seconds.
Up to this point, it was very rare for any schoolboy to run under 50 seconds.
Down the years, at senior schools’ meetings, there have been marvellous and highly talented runners in the 400m. Hewat’s Allan O’Ryan comes to mind, Sinton’s Ivan Masters, Abraham Charles of Elsie’s River, Andy James of Belgravia and Hewat, the irrepressible George van der Burg of Sinton, Cedric Momberg of Belgravia and Leon Pietersen of Sinton.
Terrence Smith and GT Moodley
There’ll be those that would argue, but hey, Terrence Smith ran 49,3 seconds as a 16-year old in 1973. But that was as a club athlete at an SA club championships. At school, Smith competed in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. And at the 1972 SASSSA championships at the Green Point Track GT Moodley of Natal set the boys open record of 49,9 seconds – the first athlete, nationally, to dip under 50 seconds. The 1972 championships was a good year for Natal, boasting star material in Ismail Collier and Rashard Williams who smashed the boys open sprint records.
Long jump and triple jump
Rhoode wasn’t a one-lap wonder. He did the long jump and triple jump, setting the boys open triple jump record of 14,56 metres at the same SA schools meeting. The old mark was held by George van der Burg, a household name in the sport in the early 1980s.
“I was fond of playing three sticks in the road with friends. I used to win all time, and I guess, this is where I developed the talent for the triple jump,” he says.
Rhoode’s accomplishments, against this background on the same grass track and thin triple jump take-off boards, are worthy of praise for an athlete who was his school’s only outstanding athlete. The school rests in the dunes of Lavender Hill, the dunes on which Sammy Frans, the school’s PT master nurtured and perfected Rhoode for the rigours of top-class athletics at the Athlone Stadium.
Move up to the 400m
“I wasn’t a top athlete for most of my career. At William John Kay Primary school in Grassy Park I did high jump (he was tall for his age) and some of the short sprints. At high school, I tried out in the 100m and 200m, until Mr Frans said ‘this wasn’t working out’. It was then that Mr Frans said I should move up to the 400m and stay with the 200m. The long jump and triple have always been events in which I featured, so I stuck with those events,” says Rhoode.
He did extremely well in the 400m and triple jump for an athlete who didn’t really train much.
Rhoode elaborates on school training when Mr Frans coached and trained him on the dunes behind the school. He did no training on his own.
“Mr Frans would work with the athletes in the mornings and afternoons, and that was it for me,” says Rhoode.
As an athlete at Western Province and SA schools level, Rhoode’s team mates included star performers Shawn Abrahams, Brian Daniels, Mark Frank, Bronwyn Bock, Odessa Krause, Noreen Julie, Dean Daniels, Theo Desmore, Walter Fourie, Cornel van Sitters, Phoebius Mullins, Owen Machelm to name a few.
After matric Rhoode joined the South Peninsula Amateur Athletics Club and participated at some of the club meetings at the Vygieskraal Stadium.
“Yes, we used to take the train to Athlone station and walk all the way along Klipfontein Road to the Vygieskraal stadium in Johnstone Road near Rylands,” he remembers.
Athlete of the day
At one of the Western Province Amateur Athletic Union’s meetings, Rhoode walked away with the athlete of the day award.
“I won the junior men’s athlete of the day award for my performances in the long and triple jump events,” says Rhoode.
But Rhoode wasn’t going to hang around at the club scene too long in 1991.
Senior men’s level
He had been chosen for the SASSSA team again in 1991 and had to compete as a senior men’s athlete against the likes of Bobang Phiri of SAAAB (South African Amateur Athletic Board), and Clint Cloete of the Western Province Amateur Athletics Union (Cloete was studying at Bellville Training College).
Phiri and Cloete were hardened and seasoned 400m runners, and for Rhoode to make any impression on them would have been impressive.
Derick Fredericks of Boland and SASSSA was another runner who was making in-roads into the 400m and 800m races.
Rhoode quit the athletics scene like hundreds of talented schoolboy athletes before.
The jump from under 18 at school level to senior men mostly proved a daunting task for the WPSSSU athletes. And the athletics season, at club level, was much longer, starting in October to April.
At school level, athletes had a maximum of two serious competitions: inter-schools and the Champion of Champions, then on to the SASSSA meeting.
Stirring and thrilling stuff
The semi-champs only came about in 1983 as a result of the growing number of school athletes.
The inter-schools meetings were stirring and thrilling stuff, though.
Nonetheless, Rhoode can look back on a proud record in athletics.
After all, he was the first WPSSSU schoolboy to break 50 seconds.