Stoic sprinter Majiet earns her stripes

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BY CLEMENT DU PLESSIS

SHAHEEDA Majiet epitomised the quote “With hard work anything is possible”.

After more than 10 long years she was crowned the sprint champion (in the 200m) and record-holder of the South African Amateur Athletics Board (SAAAB) in 1985.

Wenda Arnolds of Eastern Province won the SAAAB senior ladies 100m title on home soil in 1985. Majiet was second.

But Majiet turned the tables at the first SAAAB prestige meeting in Cape Town in 1985 when she won the 100m and 200m races in SA record times to top off an excellent season.

(The prestige meeting concluded the season and was reserved for the best athletes of the SA clubs – SAAAB, SA colleges – SATTCSA and SA schools – SASSSA)

Shaheeda Majiet
Shaheeda Majiet scores a narrow win over team mate Dianne Carelse in the 100m.

Majiet held the 100m record of 12 seconds flat and was the first to break through the 25 seconds barrier for a time of 24,9 seconds in the 200m. It was a tremendous achievement at the time.

Majiet was also part of the relay records at junior and senior level, starring with athletes in the sprints of the calibre of Suezette Arendse, Dianne Carelse, Wenda Arnolds, Portia Philander, Joy Adams and the Mulligan twins, Lizel and Tania.

“I was never the top athlete. I would end up on the podium, but never in the top spot where I really wanted to be,” Majiet recalls.

She attended Alexander Sinton High School in Crawford, but could never crack the nod at a school that excelled in athletics.

“I played hockey for the school but never really enjoyed it as I had to depend on others for success. It was then that I decided: if I really wanted to achieve success, I would have to go it alone,” Majiet says.

‘I knew I could do it’

She knew that with proper training and guidance she could make it on her own: “I would only have to depend on myself and be responsible for my own failures and successes. I knew I could do it as I was disciplined, committed and hardworking and knew exactly what I wanted to achieve – to be the best in what I did.”

Willie Davids
Spartans’ head coach Willie Davids.

It was then that she decided to join an athletics club.

“I joined Spartans Amateur Athletics Club in the late 1970s and was coached by Willie Davids,” says Majiet.

Commitment, discipline and hard work formed the bedrock of Majiet’s goal to reach the top.

Under Davids, she was put through her paces at training grounds around the peninsula.

Her winter training included fartlek training (a training method that blends continuous training with interval training) at Nantes in Athlone, the steps of Rhodes Memorial, the undulating terrain of Newlands Forest, the sand dunes of Strandfontein and Muizenberg, and a generous dose of circuit and resistance training in the fertiliser garage of Vygieskraal Stadium.

Twice a day, seven days a week

Says Majiet: “We trained very hard: twice a day, seven days a week. I had no car and walked all the way to the stadium. On the way, I would meet up with Dianne Carelse and we would walk to the field together.”

Shaheeda Joy
Shaheeda Majiet beats Joy Adams, the WPSSSU team mate of Dianne Carelse, in 1982.

Majiet is grateful to Davids for coaching and training her, as well as many other athletes, at no cost:

“Willie was the one who took the athletes to Rhodes Memorial, Muizenberg, Newlands Forest and the hill near Lovers Walk in Rondebosch.”

She also remembers having to go to Vygieskraal Stadium at 5.30am on Sundays to use the track before other groups used the stadium for their booked event.

“Other times, we would do track work at the stadium from 5.30pm and there were times when it was dark already and the coach could not see us. We only moved from our mark when we heard Willie’s whistle.”

Insert 5
Gritting her teeth, Dianne Carelse beats Suezette Arendse and Shaheeda Majiet in the 100m.

Majiet competed at regular club meetings around the peninsula, in Wellington, Worcester and Paarl in preparation for the SAAAB Track and Field championships.

“I sacrificed many outings just so that I could focus on my races the next day,” she recalls. “I would stay indoors on Friday nights and go to bed early. Saturday mornings I would just visualise on my race and, as soon as I put on my club running gear, I would be in another zone.”

Hard task masters

Majiet also has high praise for club chairman and coach Robin April.

“Mr April and Willie were hard task masters during training, and as a group of athletes at the time, we knew what we wanted to achieve,” says Majiet.

The group included Carelse, Kevin Afrika, Emeraan Ismail, Henry du Plessis, Sharon Reynolds and Lorna Daniels.

Shaheeda Majiet
Shaheeda Majiet captains the SAAAB athletics team alongside Bernard Adams in 1986.

She had a number of highlights in her athletics career such as beating star sprinters Carelse and Arendse.

Her most memorable races, though, were beating the highly-talented Mulligan twins of Heathfield High School and SASSSA at the first SAAAB Prestige meeting in 1985 – the year that Majiet also ran the SA records in the 100m and 200m.

“The feeling of beating the Mulligan twins and setting the new SAAAB records in both the 100m and 200m sprints at the Vygieskraal Stadium in 1985, is something I will always remember and cherish,” Majiet says with pride.

Shaheeda Majiet
Shaheeda Majiet takes sweat revenge over Joy Adams in the 100m.

It was also the year when Majiet captained the SAAAB team (national team) alongside the late Bernard Adams (Adams died in July 2015).

Proud SACOS athlete

As a Western Province athlete she became a regular in the WP team since 1981 and participated in every SAAAB Prestige meeting (first in 1985) until her retirement in 1989.

Majiet never focused on a role model, but she did admire the technique and running style of Carl Lewis, the 1984 LA Olympic sprint and long jump champion.

“I did not really have a sprinter as a role model but enjoyed watching the ease with which Carl Lewis ran his races. I met Marion Jones at the Vygieskraal stadium when she visited South Africa in the 1990s,” says Majiet.

Jones of America won her first world championship sprint title in Athens in 1997 and her second in Seville in 1999.

Unlike Jones, Majiet, like many other top SAAAB athletes, did not get the opportunity to showcase her talents on the world stage.

She was undaunted by the lack of opportunity and was inspired by the words of SAAAB president Harry Hendricks.

 “When our president Mr Hendricks called on us that afternoon to be proud of ourselves as athletes under the non-racial fold, the words affected me in a way I cannot really describe. But what I do know is that I went to the starting blocks with the intention to show the world that I am proud to be an athlete under Sacos.”

This was on the occasion of the Cape Herald sponsored meeting at the Vygieskraal Stadium in 1985.

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Esmond Zimri and Shaheeda Majiet captained the 1985 Western Province in Port Elizabeth.

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