Obituary For South African Masters Legend Anne McKenzie Who Has Died At 88

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By Riël Hauman
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
July 30, 2014

South African athletics, and world masters athletics, suffered a big loss with the passing of Anne McKenzie in Pinelands, Cape Town, last week. The “flying housewife”, as she was known in her running days, was a pioneer of female distance running in this country and set numerous SA and world records in a career that really only took off when she was over 40.

Anne Elizabeth Joubert was born in Ceres on 28 July 1925 and died on 23 July, five days before her 89th birthday, after suffering a fall. She attended La Rochelle High School in Paarl, where she was in matric in 1943.

She started her career not as a runner, but in the shot put, discus throw and javelin throw, and in 1948 received Western Province colours in all three. Later she turned to the short hurdles event, winning the WP title, and only started middle distance running after moving to Johannesburg.

Women’s distance running was still in its infancy and she immediately achieved success, setting the very first official national record for 880 yards, 2:24.8, on 10 November 1962 in Potchefstroom. By the time the SA Championships were held in Pretoria in April 1963, she had brought the record down to 2:19.8.

The programme included the first 880 yards event for women ever held at the SA Championships and McKenzie had no trouble winning in another national record of 2:16.5. In December the same year she equaled this time in Krugersdorp.

As she did in the 880, she became the first ever SA cross-country champion when she won the title on 31 August 1963 in Pretoria over 2 miles in 14:01. She retained the title the next year and then won again in 1966 and 1967.

In 1965, when she had the fifteen fastest times by a South African for 880 yards, she was honoured with her picture on the cover of the SA Athletics Annual.

Twelve more records over two laps followed between 1964 and 1967 until she reached the pinnacle of her career with the magnificent 2:06.5 (800m) for second behind Anne Smith in the English (AAA) Championships in London on 1 July 1967 at the age of almost 42. In the same race she also set a record of 2:07.4 for 880 yards. Her metric time placed her 30th on the world list that year; the oldest athlete above her on the list was 12 years younger!

At the SA Championships in Cape Town she won the silver medal in the 440 yards behind British Olympic superstar Mary Rand, clocking 57.1.

She finished 1967 with the fourteen fastest times by a South African; she also set national records in the 1500 m (4:36.0) and mile (4:57.2) and was second on the list for 400m. Her mile time, run in Dublin, put her eighth on the world list.

The previous year, 1966, she was awarded Springbok colours to compete against the touring British, West German and Belgian team. In the test against the visitors in Potchefstroom on 16 April she beat Gerlinde Hefner (WG) in the 880, 2:11.1 to 2:12.3.

She won her fourth consecutive SA 880-yards title in 2:10.2, another national record, once again beating Hefner. (Unfortunately the 1500 m was not included in the SA Championships before 1970.)

McKenzie ended the year with the sixteen fastest times by a South African, headed by her SA record 2:10.2 for 880 yards on 9 April in Bloemfontein. She also led the performance list in the 440 yards and the mile.

In 1968 she had a serious cartilage operation on her knee and found it difficult to run at the speeds she had done previously, and also could not do the intense training sessions she had been used to. But then her career took a new direction.

“It was during this period of indecision that I first learnt that I was already the holder of various [world] age records and that, by continuing to compete, I would possibly be able to establish more records,” she said in an interview in 1974.

The records kept tumbling, and over the next few years she set more than 30 world age records over distances from 100 m to 1500 m, as well as the javelin throw.

Her most outstanding record, of course, was the 2:06.5 in 1967 – a time that, amazingly, is still seventh on the world all-time list in the 40-44 age category and is the fastest SA age-category record.

Her other major world records were 2:19.2 in 1970 (W45, 30th on the all-time list), 2:23.1 in 1975 (W50, 15th all time), 4:36.0 in 1967 (W40), 4:49.2 in 1974 (W45), and 4:54.5 in 1975 (W50).

McKenzie also remains prominent on the world all-time lists in the 400 and 1500. In the 400 her 56.3 in 1967 places her ninth on the W40 list and she is 35th on the W50 list with her 63.2 in 1975. In the longer event her positions are: W40, 31st with 4:36.0 in 1967; W45, 43rd with 4:49.2 in 1974; and W50, 22nd with 4:54.5 in 1975.
She participated in the first World Masters Championships in Toronto in 1975 and won four events in the 50+ category: 100 m in 14.9, 400 m in 65.3, 1500 m in 5:07.3, and 5000 m in 19:33.4.

In 1981 she went to the World Championships in Christchurch and won three gold medals, this time in the 55-59 category: 400 m in 71.91, 800 m by almost 9 seconds in 2:43.41 (a world record), and 1500 m by almost 15 seconds in 5:40.97.

At the time of her death she was still holding seven SA masters records, in the 400 (W35, W40), 800 (W35, W40) and 1500 (W40, W50, W55).

There are fourteen WP masters records behind her name, in the 200 (W30), 400 (W40, W45, W50), 800 (all categories from 35 to 60), 1500 (W45, W50, W55) and javelin throw (W30).

Her complete list of 21 SA records is as follows (all 880 yards except where indicated with “m”, with the last three records being over 1500 m and one mile):

2:24.8    Potchefstroom    10 Nov 62    2:11.7    Port Elizabeth    28 Mar 64
2:23.8    Krugersdorp    12 Nov 62    2:11.0    Durban        08 May 65
2:19.9    Johannesburg    12 Jan 63    2:10.2    Bloemfontein    09 Apr 66
2:19.8    Johannesburg    06 Apr 63    2:09.4    London        03 Jul 65
2:16.5    Pretoria    13 Apr 63    2:08.0m    Nürnberg    17 Jul 65
2:16.5    Krugersdorp    04 Dec 63    2:07.4    London        01 Jul 67
2:15.7    Benoni        25 Jan 64    2:06.5m    London        01 Jul 67
2:14.5    Pretoria        08 Feb 64    4:48.0m    Solingen    09 Jul 65
2:14.0    Benoni        22 Feb 64    4:36.0m    Solingen    20 Jul 67
2:13.7    Potchefstroom    29 Feb 64    4:57.2    Dublin        18 Jul 67
2:12.1    Germiston    18 Mar 64

Her annual progression during the major part of her career (200/400/800/1500/mile; y = yards/mile time): 1962 – 25.7y/2:23.8y; 1963 – 25.8y/2:16.5y; 1964 – 25.9/59.0y/2:11.7y; 1965 – 25.6/56.0/2:08.0/4:48.0; 1966 – 25.7/57.6y/2:10.2/5:12.9y; 1967 – 25.4y/56.6y/2:06.5/4:36.0/4:57.2y; 1968 – 25.8/56.4/2:09.6; 1970 – 2:18.5/5:01.8; 1971 – 2:19.4/4:51.8; 1972 – 4:50.2; 1974 – 4:49.2; 1975 – 63.2/2:23.1/4:54.5. Other personal bests: 100 m – 12.4 (1967); 80 m hurdles – 11.6 (1963).

After her running career was over, she turned to cycling and completed the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour ten times, finishing her first one, in 1988, in a new 60+ record time of 4:04:51.

Among her many honours were SA Woman Athlete of the Year in 1963, Athletics Weekly World Veteran Woman Athlete of the Year in 1965, 1966 and 1967, Africa Athlete of the Year in 1967, South African Sports Merit Award in 1977, 1980 and 1982, and Prominent Citizens Award of the Lions Club in 1975. She was awarded life membership of Pinelands Athletic Club in 1973.

And if her athletics awards were not enough, she also received prizes for her aloe and succulent collections.
She leaves two sons, Ken and Derek, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her husband, Ken, passed away in 1997.

This writer will remember Anne for her friendliness and warmth, her generosity of spirit, her dedication to her sport and her family, and her fierce competitiveness. When we met at athletics meetings, she never failed to ask about how my running was going, and she had a lively interest in all things around the sport. Her place as a trailblazer for female distance runners in South Africa is secure.

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