Mathews “Loop-en-val” Motshwarateu
1958 - 2001

Mathews Motshwarateu was born on the 2nd of November 1958 in Soweto. His talent for athletics already became apparent in his primary school years, which he spent at Isaacson Primary. He had a peculiar way of running that made it look like he was about to fall over at any moment. His teachers started calling him “Motshwareng o tlawa”, which is Sotho for “Watch him, he will fall”. Later, sports writer Arrie Joubert would translate the nickname as “Loop-en-Val”, which is the Afrikaans for “Walk-and-Fall”. During his school career, he was spotted by talent scouts from the mines, which led to sponsorships to receive expert training. He matriculated at Seana-Marena High School, and then started running for the East Rand Propriety Mines.

In 1977 the South African Amateur Athletics Union accepted black athletes for the first time, and barely a year later, the 20-year old Motshwarateu grabbed the attention of South African athletics fans. On 15 April 1978 he ran in the 5 000m against Ewald Bonzet, who had dominated the event for years, at the Coetzenburg stadium in Stellenbosch. Loop-en-Val not only won the race in spectacular fashion, but with his time of 13 minutes, 29,6 seconds he also broke Bonzet’s four year old record. The next year he broke Bonzet’s 10 000m record and became the first South African to run the event in under 28 minutes. Since then, very few South Africans had beaten his time of 27 minutes, 48,2 seconds.

That same year, in 1979, he received a scholarship to the University of Texas in El Paso, America. There, he competed against world-class athletes in both cross-country and track events. In 1980 he broke the world record in the 10 km road race in New York, and so became the first Black South African athlete ever to break a world record. In 1981 he won the American universities’ cross-country title in what has been described as the greatest win in the championship’s history. In total, he won All-American colours four times – in the cross-country, 10 000m and the three-mile indoor run.

He returned to South Africa in 1986. In 1988 he won the 10km road race against the Mexican athletics star Arturo Barrios and set the new South African record at 27 minutes and 54 seconds. Motshwarateu’s motto was “Hit them hard from the start”. He often used psychology against his opponents – pretending to be exhausted as they overtake him, only to give it his all and beating them right at the end. He remained one of the country’s greatest middle- and long-distance runners until a hamstring injury at the age of 40 hampered his career.

He then got a job as a second-hand car dealer. In November 2001 he was shot dead in a robbery. He was survived by his wife Lilian and four children. In 2002, the organisers of the Soweto Marathon held the popular event in his honour.