Runners in Gauteng jokingly refer to them as the ‘Cheese and Tomato Athletic Club’ because of their distinctive yellow and red club colours. Athletes from KwaZulu-Natal prefer to call them the ‘Superman Club’, referring to the Superman-like logo on their vests. Call them what you want, one thing is for sure: the members of Benoni Northerns Athletic Club (BNAC) have an unbelievable spirit of camaraderie and are loads of fun on the road.
Running clubs in the East Rand are known for their good relationships and friendly rivalries. Back in their heydays it was no different. In the 80s, clubs such as Springs Striders, Germiston Callies and Boksburg Athletic Club were at the height of their popularity, and the friendly partnerships between them lead to the establishment of Benoni Northerns Athletic Club (BNAC). Because many of the runners who frequented these clubs lived in Benoni, they felt it was time for a club in their ‘hometown’. And so in 1981, Benoni Northerns Athletic Club was born as a sub-division of Benoni Northerns, the local sports club. “It was not a breakaway, just a logical decision to form a club in the area where residents lived. Even today BNAC and Brooks Springs Striders have a very good relationship,” says Paul M’Crystal, chairman of BNAC.
The club started with about 60 members, with Martin Theron being selected as the first chairman. Other chairpersons included Les Dickensen, Danie Rossouw, Paul Godwin, Rian Van Wyk, Barry England, Dave Edwards, John Roux, Jan Jordaan, Norman Milne, Debbie Thornton, John Mitchell and Gerard Visser.
BNAC was a strong club right from the start; between 1981 and 1988 they had about 60 annual Comrades entrants with between 12 to 16 finishing with silver medals. Some of the well-known BNAC runners who excelled at Comrades include:
- Tex Cullen has 25 Comrades medals. Tex and Dennis Jones are the only local runners who have run every Springs Striders 32km race since its inception in 1969.
- Frith van der Merwe, 1989 Comrades winner, shattered the women’s record becoming the first woman to break the magical sub six-hour barrier.
- Valerie Bleazard was the fastest female novice to earn a gold medal (6:54).
- Gary Turner placed fifth overall.
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BNAC is still a part of the Benoni Northerns Sports Club, which has different divisions including soccer and hockey. The club is based at the Northern Areas Sports Grounds (Albert Bekker Park) in Northmead and their current athletic membership stands at about 500. Almost 200 members, including about 80 novices, have entered for Comrades 2010. “This is the biggest number of entries we have ever had for Comrades. It is an exciting time for running. The majority of our members concentrate on road running and walking, but we also have interests in triathlons, track and cross-country events. The sections of BNAC are very supportive of each other. They train together and just before Comrades each year, the walkers host a social event for all Comrades runners,” says Paul.