The Independent Archive: Zola back and running, with a new alias

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The Independent Culture
18 September 1987

Neil Wilson reports on a clandestine comeback for the South African-born athlete given an instant injury cure

THE COMPLEX world of Zola Budd has come full circle. The girl who arrived in Britain three years ago under an assumed name is now back running under one.

The motives are the same. When she flew into Southampton Airport one wet March morning in 1984, seeking a passport, she was Miss Hamilton, because one newspaper wanted to hide her from others. Now she is Miss T. Davies, by choice, to hide herself from all of them.

At least she was when she ran her first race for more than a year two weeks ago in the London Road Runners' Club's monthly handicap race in the middle of Hyde Park. And she was again last Sunday when she won a two-mile parkland race in a course record time in Horsham.

Now her cover is blown, Miss T. Davies of Guildford ("the sister of a friend of mine") can have her name back, and Budd will find another. Only it will not be Zola Budd, at least not yet. "I'm not ready to do a lot of interviews," she says. The only news that matters is that she is ready to take her rightful place again among the world's best runners after an agonising year in which she has spent more time on the consulting couch then the running track.

"Yes, I'm cured," she says. "I have been training without trouble for three months, and it's been going well. I'm feeling much more relaxed and a lot stronger."

The cure to her hamstring injury, when it came, was instantaneous. She picked up her shoes and ran. Literally. She had been to physiotherapists, osteopaths, clinics and hospitals in England, West Germany and South Africa but in the end it was a kinesiologist who effected the remedy.

Dr Ronald Holder, an expert in the science of body posture and balance, diagnosed severe imbalance, a right foot turning inwards and striking the ground closer to the heel than the toe. Look more closely at old photographs of her now and you can see what he saw. She was running knock-kneed.

"It's difficult to explain what he did for me because you have to see how he works to understand," she says, "but the first time I went to him, I was better. The next day there was no more pain."

Holder put wedges in her shoes as a garage clamps weights to a car's wheels to balance them. He gave her exercises to strengthen parts of her and weaken others. "It's not magic but science," says Budd. "Just biomechanics. He found my hamstring was not the problem, only a symptom of it."

Holder told her that she had probably been born with the imbalances but that they had been aggravated by an operation on both feet when she was 12 which removed bone from the arches. Indeed, he believes that her outstanding performances have been achieved running more on her heels than her toes.

Meeting Holder was a fortuitous accident. She returned to South Africa in mid-May to celebrate her 21st birthday with her family. The two Cape farmers, Janie Momberg and Graham Boonzaier, to whom she entrusted her affairs after the traumatic experience of the 1984 Olympics, understood she would be there only 10 days.

They were anxious that she did nothing to remind people of her South African roots. "We'd always thought that the year of the 1987 world championships would be the first time people thought of her first as British," says Boonzaier. He and Momberg were spectators in Rome but, in the very hour they were watching Ingrid Kristiansen winning the title they had hoped would be Budd's, she was running unbeknown to them in Hyde Park.

Budd now sees her future based in England. She plans to take an A-level course with the intention of gaining a place at Surrey University after next year's Olympic Games. Her target is an attempt next March to win back the world cross-country championship.

And any who doubt that she can regain her place at the top would do well to consult Debbie Peel, who ran Budd's events at the 1982 European and Commonwealth Games. In Horsham last Sunday over two miles, Budd beat her by almost one minute.

From the Sport pages of `The Independent', Friday