The people of Harrismith dubbed Michael McDermott ‘The Mountain Goat’.
Or so running e-zine ‘Modern Athlete’ says of SIXTEEN-times winner of our Mountain Race. Apparently we used to write supportive messages for him along the route of the Harrismith Mountain Race, much like supporters do in the Tour De France. Race organisers would set him up in our local hotel with the room number that corresponded with the win he was going for. Michael became a hugely popular and inspirational figure thanks to his sixteen-consecutive-year winning streak in our rugged annual race.
They go on: Michael’s love affair with Harrismith’s imposing Platberg began in 1978, when he was just 13. “I was alone at home and ran 5km to the Harrismith Harriers clubhouse because I wanted to run that day, but no-one was there, so I ran back home. Then they called me up to ask where I was and came to fetch me. So before the race, I already run 10km,” says Michael, who ran the race and finished 32nd. “Nobody believed I had completed the race, though, because I was so small!” he laughs.
In 1980, he finished eighth and qualified for a gold medal, but had to receive it unofficially, behind the tent, as he was still below the minimum 16-year age limit for the race. A year later and now ‘legal,’ he finished fifth, and then in 1982 he posted the first of his sixteen consecutive wins, an amazing record putting him right up there in the crazy stakes with uber-talented athletes Michael McLeod of England (won the Saltwell 10km sixteen years in a row), and Jim Pearson of America (won the Birch Bay marathon sixteen times).
Michael held the record for the short 12.3km course at 50mins 30secs in 1985 and the long 15km course at 1hr 05mins 05secs as the first winner over the new distance in 1996. It came to an end when he ‘stepped skew’ and tore ligaments in his ankle while well in the lead on his way to a 17th straight win in 1998. Michael Miya took over and won the race in a new record time of 1hr 04mins 06secs and became the first black South African winner. While McDermott was really disappointed, it was also “a relief as there wasn’t that pressure to win after that.”
Michael earned Springbok colours in 1988 for cross-country, and was invited to run a number of international mountain running events in the early 1990s. He won the Swiss Alpine Marathon three times, shattering the course record in 1993. He also represented South Africa seven times in the World Mountain Trophy, from 1993 to 1999, with a best placing of fifth in 1993 in France. http://www.modernathlete.co.za
Also see *my potted history of the race*
This post opened a flood of ancient memories!
Thanks Koos – very interesting.
In “our day” Johnny Halberstadt was the King – wonder where he is today? (Koos: In America: Just sold his sports shop in Colorado).
I strolled the race two or three times in the 1990s – never finished in the allotted time, but always walked away with a medal, ’cause I knew Jacqui Wessels (du Toit) who handed out the medals!
Remember the year we did it after “peaking” at Pierre’s home the night before – about 3am. You remarked as you crossed the Start Line (not the Finishing Line) – “I think I’m under-trained”. The hangovers were monumental. As we strolled past the adoring, cheering spectators, one guy was heard to remark “Daai mal ou het sy verkyker om sy nek!” That was you! (Koos: Actually, it was Wimpie Lombard and he said “wadafokmaakjymedarieverkykers?” You’ve forgotten: Afrikaans is always one word).
The year Karin Goss and I did it, (circa 1998) we were so last that even the Coke truck had packed up and left by the time we strolled into Die Groen Paviljoen! We were so busy ‘phoning the whole world from the summit that we forgot to be competitive. Jacqui insisted on giving us medals, but drew the line at Gold – we had to be content with Bronze. Don’t know why she was so strict – there were a few Golds lying in the bottom of the box.
Was Alet de Witt the first lady to compete?
Love – stroller Sheila Swanepoel
Jacquie replied: Sheila, I think you forgot that when we allowed you to go through the finish banner after cut-off time, there was a breathalyser test for the finishers. This you seemed to have forgotten! Legal limits are 0,24 milligrams per 1000 millilitres. Finishers (at sunset) with this reading all get GOLD.
Unfortunately your readings were 0.60 . . . hence the Bronze medal. 😉
All the best (hope you enter the Mountain Race again this Year).
Kind Regards – actual finisher Jacquie Du Toit, ex-Mountain Race high-up official
JP de Witt reminisced: Sheila, As far I can remember my Mom Alet and Mavis Hutchison did the race around 1969 / 1970. Koos Keyser won it five times 1964-68. Wally Hayward (five-times Comrades winner) won in 1952.
actual finisher JP de Witt
Pikkie Loots committed: Sheila, For what it’s worth – I’m seriously considering doing it this year… if anyone wants to join me, perhaps we can motivate each other 🙂 **(Hushed silence from the sundry assorted 60-somethings – *sound of crickets*)**
And yes, there is a ‘medi-vac’ chopper 🙂 I was running the race in about 1985-ish, when a runner from Welkom dislodged a rock on One-Man’s Pass. The rock fell onto his thigh, cutting and damaging the muscle. Tony Perry, a fellow runner from Newcastle, and I were immediately behind and below the unfortunate gent. With the help of two of his team mates we carried him to the top. Another of his team mates went ahead to tell Doc Mike van Niekerk that we needed a casualty to be taken off the mountain. By the time we got to the top, both Mike and the chopper were ready….
Tony and I missed out on our silver medals by about 10 minutes (silver time was 1 hour 40 minutes). I moved to Cape Town and never ran another mountain race! So I still only have a bronze. [PS! Mike asked the committee to award Tony and I silver medals, but they must have had a shortage that year 🙂 ]
Footnote: Michael McDermott was at school when he joined our running club in Newcastle, in about 1979… there were a few ‘windhonde’ in the club at the time, but pretty soon he was chasing and beating most of them on the shorter runs. There were a few Harrismitters I saw regularly at races: Pieter Oosthuyzen and Koos Rautenbach, I especially remember, as I often chatted to them at races.
Has anyone from Harrismith ever won this besides Volschenk? and btw, I thought it was Koos Keyser who was the big hero winner of our school days? (Koos Swanepoel – not Keyser: True that. Koos Keyser won five times in a row).
PS: Note I said ‘doing’ the mountain race… no commitment to running it at this stage, but that may change on the day 🙂
Love to you all – actual finisher Pikkie Loots
Pikkie, you must shine up! The year I strolled it with Sheila, Pierre and Ilse we got silver medals. OK, to be fully honest we gave those back to Jacquie and settled for (unearned) bronzes, but we DID briefly hold silver. So shine up, mate. Try harder.
(and just for the record, I do have four legitimate finishes from pre-rinderpest days – once, I got a medal with a handy bottle opener attached). I ran without binoculars in those days.