How Wilfred Daniels breathed new life into coaching



EACH generation of athletes would call their era the ‘golden period’ of athletics.

The 1960’s had Leslie Titus, Sam de Wet, Kenny Roman, Robin April and, of course, Cecil Blows. The 70’s had Audrey Louw, Frances Williams, Norma Joseph, Sharon Alexander, Terrence Smith, Wilson Claasen; among a galaxy of athletics stars.

But it was the 1980’s that saw an upswing in performances at both school and club level. This upswing had a lot to do with Wilfred Daniels, a former senior men’s 400m, 800m and 1500m champion and record holder in 1975.

Originally, a member of the Elsie’s River Amateur Athletics club, and trained by the late Jacobus van der Berg, himself a Western Province middle distance and distance runner in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Daniels who is from Cloetesville, helped establish the Stellenbosch Amateur Athletics Club in September 1976.

Wilfred Daniels of WP held the SAAAB 400m, 800m and 1500m records simultaneously in 1975.

Shortly after his days as an athlete in 1981 (the last being as a WP cross country athlete), Daniels had put in place coaching structures, starting in WP. In that year, he also attended a summer course in athletics coaching at the Loughborough University near Leicestershire in the United Kingdom.


Daniels had already been the sports secretary of club athletics under the Western Province Amateur Athletics Union (WPAAU) since 1980.

“I joined the staff of the UWC sports department in 1980, and in 1981, Winston Kloppers received an invitation from Loughborough University and passed it on to me,” says Daniels.

But the invitation came without funding, so Daniels had to find sponsors for his trip.

“As I had previously worked on Jan Boland Coetzee’s farm at Kanonkop, he was able to get the farmers in the area to fund my trip,” says Daniels.

International contacts

Wilfred Daniels celebrates his 66th birthday today.

His Loughborough experience and his international contacts there, especially with the IAAF, got Daniels going on the coaching track. While there, and on his return, the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations, the international governing body for the sport of athletics) “assisted me with literature about the coaching of athletes”.

As the WP sports secretary, Daniels was handpicked and supported by the South African Amateur Athletics Board president Harry Hendricks to become the SAAAB sports secretary.

Daniels’ appointment gave him the opportunity to organise athletics coaching at national level.

How it started

“Harry gave me his full backing and allowed me to go about organising the coaching structures. Robin April was supportive but he never interfered with coaching. Instead, he was a hands-on president and not afraid of getting his hands dirty in the running of the union. Then I also had Michelle Walker and Judy Abrahams to assist with the developing of coaching manuals and general administration. That is how we started,” says Daniels.

By 1982, with the technical committee firmly in place, Daniels delivered his first coaching course at the Bellville Training College (BTC) with Jeff van der Merwe best remembered for being the coach of Hennie Moses, the crack 1500m and 5000m athlete.

Some of Wilfred Daniels’ Western Province athletes included Nazeem Smith, Nathan de Kock, Suezette Arendse, Kevin Africa, Emeraan Ishmail and Michael Toll.

Hendricks himself was by then the rector of the college, essentially a teachers’ training college.

Following the success of the first coaching course at BTC, the course had been farmed out to Natal, Eastern Province and Boland.

SAAAB structures

The SAAAB structures under Hendricks grew, with more and more officials being put in place from schools and colleges. Few would remember that it was Hendricks who had been responsible for the highly successful Western Province Seniors Schools Sports Union (WPSSSU) athletics meetings after he implemented the Kimberley Minute of 1954 – the separation of the primary schools from high schools. Hendricks himself was a provincial athlete in the 1940’s.

The officials responsible for coaching in Natal were VJ Balram, Rashaad Williams (the former SASSSA sprint champion and record holder) and Allan Suban.

Four provincial units

Students Freddie Damon, Jantjie Marthinus and Michael Toll in action at UWC in 1985.

From the Eastern Cape (Port Elizabeth) Daniels remembers Lizette Nagan, Norman Roman and Allan Zinn being the core of the coaching structures there.

The late Roland Bastian (Paarl), William Legolie (Wellington) and John Cupido (Sönge Training College, Worcester) were responsible for coaching in Boland.

Western Province coaches Winston Kloppers, Allan O’Ryan, Cedric van Wyk, Henry de Grass and Willie Davids also served on the SAAAB Coaches Committee.

Upgrading of officials 

These four provincial units formed the nucleus of the coaching structures in SAAAB which had a direct impact on the performances of the athletes.

“Having had these coaching structures in place, as you know, the records were being broken every week and we were moving closer and closer to the performances of the whites,” says Daniels.

Daniels went on to say “the A-Section was like our mini Olympics”.

“We had in excess of 80 coaches around the country with former athletes, teachers, and others from the private sector sitting for exams at college and school venues,” says Daniels.

Daniels was determined to improve the sport on all levels as can be seen from his cuttings in his scrapbook when he publicly (in the 1970’s already) made a call for better and improved facilities. The upgrading of officials also improved dramatically during this time.

New tartan tracks

The city council subsequently built the Vygieskraal Stadium in 1981, and in 1982 a provincial meeting had been held between WP and Boland on the first synthetic track for non-whites.

The new Vygieskraal Stadium is packed to capacity with Jantjie Marthinus leading the field in the senior men’s 800m.

The facility at the Vygieskraal Stadium is notorious for windy conditions, but on less windy days records fell like nine pins at the venue.

Daniels had thought about an alternative venue for athletics in the northern suburbs.

Patrick Naylor

As luck would have it, Daniels bumped into an engineer, Mr Patrick Naylor,  during a meeting at the Vygieskraal Stadium who had helped design and build the Vygieskraal Stadium.

“In 1983, I spoke to Gus Jacobs [Head of Sport at UWC] about the possibility of a tartan track on the campus,” says Daniels.

Richard van der Ross

Discussions were then held between the rector Richard van der Ross, Naylor, HJ Pienaar (the registrar academic at UWC), JHC Stassen (the registrar of finance) Jacobs, Daniels and Van Schalkwyk civil engineers.

Van der Ross found the money to have the UWC Sports Complex built at a cost of R5,7 million, housing offices, change rooms and, what was then called, the Blue room and Red Room which doubled up as conference and prize-giving venues.

The building of the stadium had been completed in 1984.

The coaching and competition programmes under Willfred Daniels’ guidance were starting to pay dividends by 1984 as captured by athletics writer Mogamat Toffar.

However, the politics of the day under the South African Council on Sport (Sacos), an anti-apartheid sports organisation, prohibited its athletes from using a university sports facility as it was seen as collaborating with the ruling white National Party government.

Decision to participate

The decision to participate at UWC was split along anti-apartheid political affiliations.

Athletes who studied at the Hewat Training College, essentially a college aligned to the Unity Movement, an anti-apartheid political organisation that formed the backbone of Sacos, had been told by lecturers there that it was taboo to go and participate on the track at the UWC, which had been aligned to the African National Congress (ANC). UWC had no problem with Black athletes competing there. (Black, Coloured and Indian).

Black university

UWC is a predominantly black university.

“The use of the facility [the track] by our university, club and school athletes had the support of Van der Ross, Jakes Gerwel, Allan Boesak and Winnie Mandela,” recalls Daniels.

First student meeting

In the summer of 1985, the first student meeting took place. Athletes from WPSSSU schools, Hewat, UWC and club athletes made up the competition.

The officials present at that floodlit meeting were officials of the Western Province Amateur Athletics Union. The union itself did not give its blessing, its president being Robin April.

Sports writer Mansoor Jaffer captured some of the action at the student league athletic meetings at UWC.

The meeting paved the way for the Student League meetings which had become a permanent fixture of the athletics calender under Sacos.


It was here at UWC where Daniels achieved his biggest success under SAAAB by getting his protégé Jantjie Marthinus to smash through the one minute and 50 second barrier in 1986. Marthinus broke his previous record and clocked a time of 1:48,6.

Daniels had held the record (since 1975) while coaching Marthinus, but at no stage did he protect his SA record in the 400m and 800m. Instead, Daniels was intent to improve athletics across the board (track and field, road and cross country).

Wembley Twilight Run

Another notable achievement by Daniels was the introduction of the Wembley Twilight Run in Belgravia Road, Athlone.

The idea was conceived after hours in the pharmacy of the late Colin Clarke in Athlone central when Daniels and Clarke initiated the idea of a fun run.

“We then arranged for a meeting with the Wembley Group of Companies, and its owner, the late Abdullah Gangraker graciously sponsored the event for three years during the late 1980s,” says Daniels.

By 1991, South Africa was welcomed back into the international fold, and by 1993, Daniels reached the pinnacle of his illustrious athletics career when he was appointed national coach of the new athletics body called Athletics South Africa (ASA).

He was the head coach of ASA between 1993-2009.

Daniels, 66, who resides in Cloetesville, Stellenbosch is married to Julia and they have three children Julio, Wilderene and Ovett.

2 thoughts on “How Wilfred Daniels breathed new life into coaching

  • February 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Well written, sir!

  • February 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Very informative piece, Clement. This history I do not know as I was still wet behind the ears.


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