SANDRA Petersen was blessed with an abundance of sprinting talent that kept her in the winner’s circle for most of her athletics career.
Although she had competed as an athlete in primary school, Petersen came into her own at high school.
In 1986, Die Burger, an Afrikaans newspaper in Cape Town, wrote: “There were a number of surprises at the Spartans athletics meeting where junior athlete Sandra Petersen of Mondale was the biggest. Petersen, an under 17 athlete, beat two sprint champions in Yolanda Titus and Qanita Nazier convincingly in the both the 100m and 200m.” (translated from Afrikaans)
She arrived on the scene in spectacular fashion in 1986 as she went on to win the SA senior schools sprint titles as well as the SAAAB junior ladies sprint and long jump titles in record fashion.
Titus, too, was a brilliant athlete who held the SA senior schools under 15 sprint records (100m: 12,1 seconds and the 200m: 26,1 seconds in 1985). She was also a tremendous five-metre long jumper. She was a regular provincial athlete at both school and club level.
Nazier of Sibelius Junior School and South Peninsula Athletics Club held the girls under 17 100m record with a time of 12,3 seconds set in 1985. She also held the girls under 14 long jump record of 5,16m in 1983.
Having lived in Elsie’s River, the Petersen family had moved to Westridge, Mitchell’s Plain where Sandra attended Harvester Primary School and Mondale High School.
She arrived at Mondale at a time when the school was on a mission to wrest the A-Section mantle from Belgravia High School in Athlone.
By 1987, Petersen was part of the Mondale athletics team who had won the B-Section – a sectional athletics meeting of the Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union. The A-Section featured the top eight schools based on the Champion of Champions results of the previous year.
Representing the WPSSSU at the South African Senior Schools Sports Association’s (SASSSA) athletics meeting in Paarl in 1987, she blazed to a SASSSA record time of 25,3 seconds in the girls open 200m – the fastest time in any age group at school level. The record stood until the books closed in 1994.
By 1988, Mondale was on its way to becoming the next dominant force in schools’ athletics. Petersen contributed to the success of the school until 1989. By this time she was installed as the top junior ladies sprinter in the country, and she was on the cusp of being the senior ladies sprint champion, following the retirement of the senior ladies sprint and long jump record holder and champion Suezette Arendse (Saban) of Hewat in 1988.
All of Petersen’s successes came on the back of very little training.
“I didn’t realise that I was a blessed with this talent. I just ran, it was something I enjoyed, although I was nervous at the start of each and every race,” says Petersen who is married to Gary Meiring. They have two sons Ryan-Charl and Zinedine.
Her dad Philip Petersen, 72, helped her with ‘training’.
“It wasn’t much training, I didn’t like much training, never mind just the thought of training,” she says modestly.
She and her dad, much younger then, would run from their house to the beach about 3km away.
There they would train on the sand and in the sea water.
“It was nothing intense,” she says.
She hardly did any track work, starts and hill running.
Whatever track and starting practice she got had been at Mondale under the tutelage of Nazeem Smith, at the time the national sprint champion.
“It wasn’t just at Mondale where I received a lot of support, there were many more people who helped me in various ways over a long a period of time. I am grateful for their help. To mention names would be unfair as I might leave out some people’s names,” says Petersen.
Petersen, while learning from the best, was the high schools champion under 17 and open. She went on to become the junior ladies champion and the senior ladies champion on more than one occasion.
Her record achievements were staggering as every time she stepped on the track or jumped into the pit, something would happen!
Petersen was by far the best junior ladies sprinter/long jumper by 1986, proving herself against the best. Bear in mind that Bishop Lavis Athletics club and school had Yolanda Titus, the multiple SASSSA record holder who was able to beat Petersen in the 100m, 200m and long jump. The two also had rivalry as junior ladies’ athletes.
Amina Dollie of Grassy Park and the very young Vanessa Orr of Spartans and Garlandale High School provided stiff competition all the way through to national athletic meetings.
In 1986, Petersen had all four junior ladies records: the 100m (12,3 seconds), 200m (25,5 seconds) long jump (5,49m) and relay (50,6 seconds). Later, a young girl by the name of Odessa Krause (Swarts) of Spartans and Ned Doman and Scottsville High Schools made the junior ladies sprints records her own (100m in 12, 1 seconds and the 200m in 25 seconds flat).
The only records to elude Petersen were the senior ladies records of Suezette Arendse of Hewat of 11,7 seconds (100m) 24,0 seconds (200m) and the long jump record of 6,21m.
Arendse and Petersen
In the twilight years of Arendse’s career, Petersen had been able to beat her in the sprints. Arendse would do likewise on another occasion.
Arendse, Petersen and Krause (Swarts) were arguably the best three ladies sprinters produced under the banner of the South African Amateur Athletics Board.
Petersen had embarked on teaching studies at the Bellville Training College in 1991.
It was there where she had been asked by lecturers Mr and Mrs Davids to enter for competition three weeks before the Student Games in Buffalo, New York in 1993.
“At the time I was no longer competing as I had been focusing on teaching studies when the lecturers approached me about an international meeting in New York in 1993,” she recalls.
In many ways South Africa had been chaotic in clamouring for international sport even before democracy in 1994. Our players were not adequately prepared to compete internationally at the time and the selection of players on both sides of the political spectrum black and white led to ill feeling and political squabbles.
Cricket had been welcomed back internationally in 1992 and took a sound beating from the West Indies and India.
Our track athletes floundered at the Barcelona Olympics where only Elana Meyer was able to pick up a silver medal in the 10 000m.
It was in a sense a chaotic time for South Africa who had been rushed into the international arena after a period of sporting isolation between 1970 and 1992 – the year South Africa competed at the Barcelona Games. Nelson Mandela had been freed in February 1990 and some South Africans were pregnant with expectation. The consequences of rushing into international competition were dire at the time and the effects of the decision to compete internationally, as an unprepared sporting nation, are still being felt today.
Petersen, nevertheless, accepted the opportunity to travel to New York in 1993.
Not one for training Petersen had gone to the Games where her performances were not up to scratch.
She did, however, make out a case for competition there when she had the beating of the local athletes at Coetzenburg athletics track in Stellenbosch.
Such was the interest in her, that she been had been touted in the Afrikaans press to compete against Marcel Winkler and Evette de Klerk who were athletes in the former South African Amateur Athletics Union, a body backed by the apartheid government of the day. Petersen was an athlete of the non-racial athletics body the South African Amateur Athletics Board. But this race never happened.