Told recently that the pressures of burgeoning fame were almost unavoidable, she responded with an uncomfortable smile and a whisper to Labuschagne. "I know that I'm going to have to face up to it," he translated. "But I'll do it in my own time, thank you."
One of Zola's favorite times was 5:30 a.m., an hour when she usually drove with her father into Bloemfontein from the Budd small holding about 13 miles away. They would meet Labuschagne and some of her school friends. The coach would get in the car with Frank. Zola and her pals would run a 7½-mile circuit that took them over Bloemfontein's Naval Hill, where ostrich, impala and springbok stared at them in the dawn from the city's game park, and then through the suburbs where Zola grew up before they moved farther out. Bloemfontein is in high country, 4,568 feet, and those mornings were crisp and cold.
Then in the late afternoons, after the heat of the day, Zola would return to her high school playing fields for pace work with Labuschagne. "It all seems so casual," said an observer earlier this year. "This elfin schoolgirl in her blue satin shorts and running shoes that look too big for her feet, going about the business of being the best in the world. But there are no exhortations to push harder or go faster. She runs. He times her and makes a note in his school exercise book." The unconscious effect is to recall the adjectives traditionally applied to Voortrekkers: purposeful, stolid, remorseless.
Zola has never had to make tactical decisions such as choosing a moment to kick because there has never been anyone to kick against. "We just plan an average lap time," says Labuschagne. "She begins at that pace, and if the conditions are right, she'll begin taking seconds off the average." Zola's sense of pace has convinced Labuschagne that she'll mature into a fine marathoner. "Before she's 24, she'll be doing a marathon in 2:22." Joan Benoit's world record is 2:22:43.
But for now she runs the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000, and until now she has raced only herself, been driven only by herself. And if you are honest, this is the most remorseless opponent of all. In February, again at Stellenbosch, again with the wind opposing her, she tried for the 3,000 women's world record of Svyetlana Ulmasova (8:26.78) of the Soviet Union. That night the wind rose to ridiculous strength. She was not close. And afterward she was inconsolable.
As photographers paced and growled outside, Zola sat hunched in a corner of the stadium offices, like a frightened fawn. Labuschagne talked to her quietly, steadily, bringing her out of her withdrawal. "She's very vulnerable after a race that hasn't gone well for her," he-says. "I tell her there's always another day, that she'll get another chance, that she's not a failure." If a true perfectionist is measured by how crushing even his or her perceived failure can be, Zola Budd is an esteemed member of the club. One wishes for her always to have loving, soothing people around.
With the records and the press came the incessant asking of The Question: What would she do to get international competition? She had a precedent in Sydney Maree, the black South African middle-distance runner who accepted a scholarship at Villanova, stayed in the U.S. and obtained citizenship. Zola had no lack of U.S. scholarship offers. But for a time she held off. She wasn't ready yet. The need wasn't that great yet. "Sometimes I feel it might be necessary to go overseas," she told the Los Angeles Times, "but I won't leave permanently. If I had to choose between running and staying, I'd probably stay." That was said in January.
Except in rare cases South African law forces anyone acquiring citizenship in another nation to forfeit South African nationality forever. In effect, it says choose; run elsewhere or stay here. It was true that Frank Budd's father was born in Hackney, London. Frank was therefore entitled to a British passport. British Home Office officials said last week they would view Zola's application for citizenship "with sympathy." British national Coach Frank Dick was gleeful over the prospect of her wearing the British rose in Los Angeles. But Zola Budd still had to choose.
Because Frank Budd is fiercely protective, it had to be a family decision. Labuschagne advocated no one course of action, but he made it clear that he felt no animosity toward Maree for gaining American citizenship to advance his running career. "I just want the best for her," he said last month. "My job is to bring her to her best performing peak."
It was natural, early in this process, for Frank Budd to rage against the sporting world's treatment of South Africa. "Zola hasn't done anything wrong," he said. "Why should she be penalized like this? Half the people who shut her off from the world think that there are lions and tigers roaming the streets here. What do they know of our life? What do they know how we and Zola feel about it? And do they care?"