Zola Budd – Protagonist or Antagonist?

Zola Budd is most famous in the United States for this:


In the 3000m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, Budd collided with Mary Decker – a collision that sent Decker to the track and eliminated her chance at a medal. Budd was initially disqualified, but she was later reinstated, as an IAAF jury found her not at fault (Budd finished 7th in the race).

Even prior to that, Budd was at the center of a controvery. She is from South Africa and was therefore ineligible to compete at the Olympics due to international sanctions. However, the U.K. fast-tracked a citizenship application and Budd was cleared to compete for Britain.

Fast Forward Thirty Years

Zola has lived in South Carolina for several years. She’s a volunteer coach at Coastal Carolina University and she continues to run competitively. At the age of 47, she won this year’s Charleston Marathon in 2:59:42.


Comrades is the world’s oldest (1921) and largest ultramarathon. It takes place between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

Zola (now 48 years old) ran this year’s race and remarkably finished as the 7th female. Her time of 6:55:55 placed her 187th overall out of 14,622 starters. For finishing 7th, she received 25,000 rand (approximately $2,339). She also received an additional 12,000 rand (approximately $1,123) for being the top Veteran (Masters).

After the race, she gave the following interview:

However, she was informed a couple of days later that she would not be receiving the age-group prize, because according to officials, she did not display her age category tag properly. Basically, this is the issue:

In the international final instructions it stated the age category was on the race number. However, race officials said there was a separate number which had to be sewn on the athlete’s vest.

Budd contends that the women who finished second and third in her age group (now first and second) also had their age categories on their race numbers. She stated:

“I won it fair and square – my whole athletics career has been plagued by politics and interference from administrators who are selective and do not apply the rules consistently… It feels like they are targeting me specifically. Why does this rule apply to me and not to others?”

As it stands right now, Zola keeps her prize money for finishing 7th overall and she keeps her medal. However, she loses out on the age-group money, despite finishing 16 minutes ahead of Tina Major.

There have been other recent controversies at races regarding “rules” – several that come to mind:

– Kilian Jornet cutting switchbacks at Speedgoat in 2012 (he lost out on 1st place prize money even though it was not expressly prohibited by the rules)

– Mohamed Fadil disqualified after winning the Orange County Marathon for receiving aid along the course (a violation of USATF Rule 144)

The Gabe Grunewald, Jordan Hasay, Alberto Salazar, Nike, USATF mess

– Ryan Sandes and Dylan Bowman being disqualified – and then reinstated – at Gran Canaria

What do you think about “rules” at races?

What do you think would be an appropriate resolution to the most recent Zola Budd controversy?

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9 Responses to Zola Budd – Protagonist or Antagonist?

  1. emmelineruns says:

    I can handle even crazy rules as long as they are properly advertised in advance and enforced consistently. There was a major DQ in triathlon for a woman who “received aid” from another competitor yet there have been high profile athletes who have accepted co2 cartridges and such from other athletes so it’s very hard to tell where the line is drawn. The same principle applies to the whole track and field nonsense since I’ve seen far more egregious trips/pushes than whatever it was that caused the Bumbalough DQ.

  2. piratebobcat says:

    Did you see the rules at the North Korean Marathon? One dude’s logo was ‘too big’ on his shorts so he couldn’t wear them – had to run in jeans. I wouldn’t violate any of their rules…don’t want to end up in a prison camp!

  3. I’m a very rule oriented person. You should know the rules before competing. It just seems strange to me that so many interesting circumstances have happened around her.

    • Jason says:

      Fair enough.. However, one problem that has been coming up is language barriers with international fields – Kilian was in the US for Speedgoat (he speaks English, but not as his first language) and the issue with Ryan Sandes at Gran Canaria was 100% language related – the word “cover” being used in place of “emergency blanket” – sure, I think it is the responsibility of the runner to know the rules, but I don’t think it’s always cut and dry.

  4. leerunsdistances says:

    I think the rules are a bit out of hand and man! Zola can’t catch a break! I didn’t know about this latest controversy. I think Nike’s behind all the rules haha just sayin’

  5. It’s interesting. I’ve been participating in triathlons for 3 or 4 years here in the states. The USAT rule is no headphones or earbuds, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone wearing them. I did my first marathon last year, and the same rule was in place, but every other runner had earbuds on (except me!).

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