BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS
This is the second chapter of a two-part series about former star athlete Martin Saayman (Read part one here).
BEFORE venturing into the facts and figures of his athletic achievements, his difficult trek in 1984 to WP is some story.
“Mr [Alex] Marshall would at times take me home to Riversdal to be in time for school on Mondays,” said Saayman.
On other occasions he would be on the train to and from Riversdal, such was the dedication and relationship with his mentor and coach Marshall to be able to compete with the best at the Vygieskraal stadium.
Marshall, a schoolteacher at Trafalgar High School and the mainstay of the Trafalgar Amateur Athletic Club, had roped in Saayman and convinced him that he would be a better athlete over 3000m.
Marshall could not have been more correct. In 1984, Saayman beat the near-unstoppable Patty Francis of Boland in the 3000m.
Francis and Saayman had an absorbing rivalry in the 1500m and 3000m in 1984. Saayman had beaten Francis in the 1500m at the South African Amateur Athletic Board’s Track and Field meeting at the Vygieskraal stadium in 1984 and Francis reversed the result in the 3000m with a convincing victory.
At the time, Saayman was the only athlete to have beaten Francis – another excellent junior runner never to fulfil his talent.
The majority of junior athletes do not progress to senior level for a number of reasons. Saayman had no reason not to mix it with the big boys in 1985 when he moved up to senior level.
He was by then a student teacher at the Bellville Training College, a college which had produced champion athletes over a long period.
However, in his first year, the 800m went to Hewat’s Johnny Braaf and the 1500m to Athlone Training College’s Rubin Steyn at the Western Province Colleges athletics meeting at the Vygieskraal stadium in 1985. Saayman, however, won the 5000m at the colleges’ meeting.
He wasn’t deterred by his performance at the colleges’ meeting in the 800m and 1500m and went on to win the senior men’s 5000m at the South African Amateur Athletic Board’s Track and Field meeting on Gelvandale’s ash track in Port Elizabeth (PE) in 1985 – and indication once again that the longer distances suited him best.
“The atmosphere of college athletics is one I will never forget,” he said to South newspapers in 1987.
He had beaten Francis and EP’s Desmond Zibi into second and third place respectively in PE. Saayman was second to O’Neil Simpson in the 1500m. On these performances, Saayman was selected to the SA Board team, but would miss out on the WP Colleges team in 1985.
Zibi is a former SAAAB Prestige 1500m champion (1991) and he went on to gain second place in the world’s most picturesque marathon, the Two Oceans Marathon in 1999.
Saayman rectified his college performances in the 1500m at the South African Teachers Training Colleges’ Sports Association (SATTCSA) meeting at the Green Point Track in 1986 when he beat Steyn in a SATTCSA record time of 3 minutes and 59,5 seconds.
He was subsequently selected to the prestigious SATTCSA team to participate at the SAAAB Prestige meeting at the Vygieskraal stadium. Steyn also qualified for the SATTCSA team on the basis of his victory in the 800m in a SATTCSA record time of 1 minute and 54, 9 seconds.
Racking up victories
Saayman continued to participate in the track events where he was one of the best in the 1500m, 5000m and 10 000m. He had beaten the likes of Owen Machelm and John September in later years – two athletes who had left an indelible mark on the sport.
He racked up wins in the cross country and road races beating high-quality athletes such as Joseph Gysman, Tobias Philander, Henry de Grass, David Scheepers, Moos Hartnick, Jacobus Botha and Ronald Williams.
At his peak, Saayman won the Western Province, Boland and SAAAB cross country titles in 1987.
He was the SAAAB Prestige cross-country champion in Wellington in 1987.
First Wembley winner
Saayman was also the winner of the inaugural Wembley 15km road race in Athlone in 1988. The community race had more than 9 000 athletes at the start in Belgravia Road near the Wembley chain of food stores.
He won the SAAAB 10km road race in Port Elizabeth in 1991.
During unity, Saayman held his own when he won a string of road races on the Peninsula.
By then a number of former Sacos athletes in Ralph Wyngaardt, Owen Machelm, Donovan Wright, John September, Farwa Mentoor, Jowaine Lategan, Melody Marcus, Keith Court and EP’s Desmond Zibi proved themselves on the national and international stage.