Few local female track athletes can claim to have truly challenged the stopwatch, but these UP-Tuks athletes can: Carina Horn, Geraldine Pillay and Marcel Winkler are the fastest, third-fastest and fourth-fastest South African female sprinters respectively.
As TuksAthletics celebrates 100 years of excellence this week, we caught up with Horn, Pillay, Winkler, and UP-Tuks rising star Tebogo Mamathu, who many predict will join their record-setting ranks soon.
Horn is the first local female sprinter to run the 100m in under 11 seconds, setting a record of 10.98s this year, while Pillay ran 11.07s in 2005 and Winkler 11.16s in 1990.
Pillay – who took home a silver medal in the 100m at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne as well as a bronze for the 200m – is excited about having had the opportunity to watch Horn become the first local female sprinter to run the 100m in under 11 seconds. “I would have loved to have been the first, but at least the first under-11 seconds race by a South African female sprinter happened in my lifetime and not when I’m 80.”
During the 1990 South African Championships in Germiston, Winkler won her 100m heat in 11.16s to set a new South African record (though there was hardly time to celebrate as two hours later, Evette de Klerk won the final, running 11.06s.)
Winkler was also the first track and field athlete of colour to represent the country at the Olympic Games, in 1992 in Barcelona. Unfortunately, she pulled a hamstring during one of the heats – but she refused to give up, hobbling the last few metres to cross the finish line. Despite the let-down, Winkler says that simply racing against Olympic champion Gail Devers of the USA – who went on to win gold for the 100m that year – was an honour. A recurring back injury forced Winkler to retire at age 23.
Yet stand-out performances on the track didn’t start with these three women: UP-Tuks athlete Claudie van Onselen (nee Van Straaten) was very likely the youngest sprinter to become a senior national champion, winning the 100m and 200m at the 1970 South African Championships at only 16 years old. She was selected for the Springbok team while still at Hoërskool Menlopark.
Van Straaten says that by the time she retired, at only 24, she may have won as many as 37 national sprinting titles, in the 100m, 200m, 400m and relay. Her best time in the 100m was a hand time of 11.40s and 23.0s in the 200m event.
While she never really had the opportunity to test herself against the world’s best, due to South Africa’s apartheid policies at the time, she made the most of the few times that she did compete on the international stage, receiving the award for the best female athlete at meets in Greece and Denmark.
As TuksAthletics celebrates its centenary, many are predicting that UP-Tuks athlete Tebogo Mamathu (whose best time is 11.27s) will continue this tradition of top performance by becoming South Africa’s next sprinting star. “I hope Carina’s breakthrough effort will inspire the likes of Tamzin Thomas and Tebogo to follow suit,” says Pillay.