Monday, July 18, 2011

1980: Sydney Maree Punished Twice For Apartheid

Sydney Maree running for Villanova (in third place)

Today is Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday, and tomorrow is the 31st anniversary, of the opening of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a great lost opportunity in the history of Villanova track, so I have decided to use today to take a look at Sydney Maree, a native South African who was held out from competing in Moscow due to South Africa's ban from international sport including the  Olympics due to apartheid.

In the long, illustrious history of distance running at Villanova, there has never been a runner who could match the physical abilities of Sydney Maree. During his time on the Main Line, Maree won three NCAA outdoor titles, two indoor titles, set the Villanova record in every single frequently run outdoor distance event from 1500-10,000 meters including the still standing NCAA records in the 1500m and the mile. For this particular story however, Maree's accomplishments are secondary to the grave injustice he suffered, both for being a black South African, and a South African athlete.

During the late 1970's to the mid 80's, distance running was largely dominated by runners of European descent (white guys). Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett from Great Britain, Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland (and Villanova), and John Walker of New Zealand were some of the dominant names in the sport at the time, and Africans from the rift valley had yet to begin winning every single race possible. By the time the 1980 summer olympics rolled around, Sydney Maree was at least competitive with the aforementioned on the stopwatch, (whether he was competitive with them in an actual race is a completely different story altogether,) but he was not allowed to compete due to the ban on his home nation of South Africa from competing in the Olympics because of South Africa's apartheid.

The banning of South Africa for political purposes was a grave injustice, because it punished athletes who were already disenfranchised under South Africa's state sponsored discrimination, creating a "double whammy" for athletes like Sydney Maree. Sydney Maree's season best time that season would have put him in contention for a medal in 1980, but he was unable to compete due to unfair conditions in his own country, and punitive sanctions from the international community that wound up achieving very little.

Sydney Maree would compete in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics for the USA after getting US citizenship. He never medaled in the Olympics despite being an elite runner on the world stage for the better part of a decade.

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