"SHE JUST COULDN'T COPE"
After succeeding in obtaining hurry-up British citizenship last April, South African-born middle-distance prodigy Zola Budd promised to "run my heart out for Britain." Then Budd, barefoot as usual, finished a tearful seventh in the 3,000 meters at the Los Angeles Olympics after colliding with Mary Decker of the U.S. Last week the 18-year-old Budd, who had returned to South Africa after the Games, wrote a letter in a childish hand to the Afrikaans newspaper in Bloemfontein, her hometown, in which she described her experiences abroad as "educational" but said she'd decided to remain in South Africa "because I enjoy my athletics much more here." As a consequence of its apartheid policies, South Africa is an international sports pariah, and Budd's decision, if it sticks, will mean she'll no longer be able to compete internationally.
The cynical view of Budd's about-face was that she had sought a British passport for the sole purpose of competing in the Olympics and that she had conned both the British Home Office and the International Olympic Committee. A more charitable, and almost certainly more accurate, view was that she had acted in good faith in changing her nationality—that is, she had intended to compete as a Briton after the Olympics—but had been traumatized by events she couldn't have foreseen. At any rate, almost everybody agreed that Budd was foolish to voluntarily put herself back on the sports blacklist from which she had so recently escaped. Her parents, her coach and sports officials in both Britain and South Africa all argued against the decision that her mother, Tossie, said "was hers and hers alone."
In reaching that decision, Budd was recoiling from the realities of international sports and politics that had resulted, on various occasions, in her being booed in Britain by antiapartheid demonstrators and reduced to tears by probing journalists. Finally, there was the debacle in the 3,000. Decker's coach, Dick Brown, said last week that he and others were hoping to have Decker and Budd appear together at the Olympic closing ceremonies, but that Budd had scotched the idea because she was tired of all the hubbub over the collision with Decker and "just wanted to go home."
According to her sister, Estelle, Zola's experiences in Britain and the U.S. had left her close to a nervous breakdown. "The pressures on her were too much," Estelle said. "She just couldn't cope." There also were reports that Budd wanted to remain in South Africa because, on top of everything else, her parents had separated and her mother was ill. But Tossie denied a rift in her marriage, and she dismissed reports she was in failing health as "a load of tripe."
Budd will become ineligible for international competition the moment she runs again in her native land, and early this week Nigel Cooper, the general secretary of The British Amateur Athletic Board, flew to South Africa to try to persuade her to hold off entering any races. If Budd forfeits her international eligibility, any world records she may set will go unrecognized. Unless South Africa is restored to good standing in international sports, Budd also will forfeit big-money opportunities on the U.S. and European track and road-racing circuits, and fans will be deprived of the chance to see potentially dramatic rematches between herself and Decker. They instead will be left with the memory of a young woman, at once precocious and vulnerable, who ran barefoot into the Olympic glare only to find the light too harsh for her taste.
Do U.S. Air Force aircraft ceremonially buzz West Point before football games between Army and the Air Force Academy? Heavens, no, an Air Force Academy spokesman assured us, suggesting with a straight face that the jet fighters and bombers seen flying at low altitudes over the Hudson River in past years must have been privately owned (SI, Nov. 5). Well, more of the now-familiar buzzings occurred in the days before last Saturday night's game, which Army won 24-12, and this time we decided to see what West Point sports information director Bob Kinney had to say about the phenomenon. Yup, Kinney told us, he'd personally witnessed two flyovers.
"It was a bomber on Tuesday, a big one," he said. "Thursday it looked like a fighter jet."
Were they flying low?