A legend of the 80s and 90s, Matthews ‘The Flash’ Temane, was one of the fastest finishers our country has ever seen. He received Springbok colours 12 times and, in 1987, he held the prestigious honour of being the fastest man in the world over the half marathon with a time of 60:11. Modern Athlete recently caught up with Matthews, who is still running today and plans to do the Comrades Marathon next year.
He still wears it: the trademark white, shell necklace he wore years ago when he blitzed his way to endless podium finishes at local and international road races and track events. “I am still wearing that exact same necklace. I took it off once after fellow runners said I could not win without it. I proved them wrong. I did what they asked and took it off – and still won,” chuckles Matthews, who today runs for Vaal Reefs Marathon Club.
Speaking to Matthews, you quickly realise how humble he is despite his prestigious sporting accolades of the 80s and 90s. He proudly shows a book he has kept over the years featuring all the articles that were written about his achievements. Matthews is not a man who likes change; not in work and not in sport. He has been working at the same company for the last 25 years and is currently a supervisor at the hostels of the AngloGold Ashanti mine in Orkney, North-West. Twice a month on weekends, he returns to his childhood home in Hammanskraal outside Pretoria where he was raised by a mother who motivated him to pursue his love and talent for running.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
As a young boy Matthews, the second of seven children, ran 10km to school and back every day. Running was not his first love. He lived to play soccer until a group of runners from school challenged the soccer players to a race around the field. Little did they know then that they would come up against a future world champion runner posing as a soccer player. Matthews outran them all and his soccer team managed to win. “That day, I realised I could run fast. I was 17 years old. My mom encouraged me to take up running and our school headmaster offered to coach me. He used to take me and a group of the boys to a mine in Westonaria and we would run there.” As a 19 year old, he dreamt of beating Matthews Motshwarateu, aka ‘Loop en Val’. His dream came true when he ran against him in the former Bophuthatswana. They ran on a grass track and Temane won the 5 000m in a very fast time of 14:28.
“I had great respect for Loop en Val,” says Matthews of this talented athlete who was sadly gunned down and robbed of R30 in 2001. Loop en Val was a great runner who won numerous track and cross country titles. He was also the first South African to break 28 minutes for 10 000m.
Matthews started his career in 1981 as a recreational officer at the Vaal Reefs Gold Mining Company in Westonaria. “It was nice for me to work for the mine because the people I worked with also ran. They liked running just as much as I did,” says Matthews, who ran at a time when mining companies’ running clubs did a lot to develop the rich talent amongst the black running community. Matthews’ career started taking off and in 1981, at the Goldfields Championships in Carletonville, he managed to win the 800m, 1 500m, 5 000m and 10 000m – all in one day. It was also the first time Matthews had ever run on a tartan track.
Later that year, he placed third in his first national race over 5 000m. His running ability was rewarded in 1982 when he received Springbok colours for the first time. Matthews is one of the few athletes to earn Springbok colours in all disciplines: track, cross country and road. On his 26th birthday, at the sixth HERALD-OPEL Street Mile in Port Elizabeth, Matthews set a personal best of 3:46:80 for the street mile, out-sprinting blonde Springbok Johan Fourie (3:47.9) and Victor Radebe (3:47.5). Our country had something special; he was a world champion in the making!
A WORLD CHAMPION
Matthews peaked towards the end of the 80s and in 1987, he achieved the ultimate, a PB and a world record in a time of 1:00:11 run at the Ohlsson’s SA championships in East London. He remembers that world record as if it was yesterday. “I fainted when I crossed the finish line. When I came by, I saw my coach, Richard Turnball, and he told me I just broke the world record! I could not believe it,” says Matthews, who after the race admitted he was dead scared of Zithulele Sinque, who came second.
Before he broke the record, he notched five wins in 15 days. One was in a 12km cross country event, two in 15km events and two in half marathons. His form held and in the same year, he broke the SA record in the 5 000m (13:25.1), this time at the Coetzenburg Stadium in Stellenbosch. In 1989, in East London, Matthews set a course record of 1:04:50 at the South African Half Marathon Championships, something he is still very proud of today. “I loved running short distances. Marathons were never really my thing.”
Despite this, he represented South Africa in the marathon at the World Athletics Championships on 12 August 1995 in Gothenburg, Sweden. His first international experience was not what he had hoped for. He finished 45th in a time of 2:31:24, almost 20 minutes off the pace. “It was my first international race and not a nice experience. Everything was new and strange to me. The weather was cold and I did not enjoy the race,” recalls Matthew, who has a personal best of 2:14 for the marathon.
He gave it his all in every race and saw each one as a challenge. “I used to out sprint my competitors, often coming from behind. I studied them and knew Johan Fourie was only good at sprinting the last 400m, nothing further. I realised I had to kick over the last 600m to beat him and made sure I trained fast 600m sprints.”
Johan, who regularly raced against Matthews, recently spoke about his admiration for Matthews’ finishing pace. “He had an unbelievable kick towards the end of a race and he has beaten me many times.”
On the track, it was definitely Johan Fourie, Deon Brummer and Henning Gericke. “They were all friends and all trying to beat me.” Johan and Matthews were known for their battles in the mile race. “Johan was very good at the mile, but I was a little better at the longer track distances because I had a stronger kick over distance,” says Matthews.
On the road, his greatest competitors were Xolile Yawa, a former Berlin Marathon winner and nine time SA 10 000m senior champion as well as Zithuele Sinqe, a 2:08 marathoner and Two Oceans marathon winner in 1996 and 1997.
Quality training was the cornerstone of his regime and he still roughly follows the same training principles today, says Matthews.
At his peak, he ran about an hour every morning at a relaxed pace of between four and five min/km. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were dedicated to track work. These sessions included speed sessions, sprinting flat out for 200m, jogging for another 200m, sprinting for 400m, jogging for 200m and finishing the set with 600m sprint followed by a 200m jog. He would repeat this three times in one session.
On Wednesday afternoons, Matthews hit the gym or did hill training, a normal hill session was five repeats up an 800m incline. He believed in respecting his body and never pushing it beyond its limits.
“I always listened to my body. If I felt tired, I did less training and if I felt good I did a bit more. Weekends were always reserved for longer runs of about two hours but I never did too much mileage because I knew it would make me slow.”
Matthews decided to try his hand at Comrades as he started slowing down over time. In 1999, he finished in a time of 7:12 and in 2000, in a time of 8:28. “I was never very good at long distance races. In my first Comrades I went out very hard trying to run in the front, but I quickly got very tired. My body did not know how to handle that kind of pain and I had to run and walk to the finish,” he grimaces with a smile.
A SAD LOSS
His mom passed away in 2007 after a heart attack and it took its toll on Matthews. He struggled through a difficult time in which he lost interest in running. “After my mom’s death it constantly felt as if there was a heavy weight on my shoulders. I was very close to her and took her to all the big races. I still lived with her and she looked after me because I am not married.” Over time he slowly started putting the pieces together and today running is part of keeping his mother’s memory alive.
THE ROAD AHEAD
He loves running purely for the joy he gets from it. “Athletes these days run for the money. They don’t try and chase fast times. They rather go for a podium position because there is so much prize money at stake,” says Matthews.
These days he trains with friends from the Vaal Reefs Marathon Club. They run together on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the other days, each one follows his own programme. Matthews likes to stick with what he knows and runs about an hour each morning. He includes some hill repetitions or 800m track session twice a week in his programme. He proudly shows the Oppenheimer Stadium in Orkney where he still does a lot of training. As Comrades is his goal next year, he has started increasing his mileage on weekends. “Once or twice I have asked a friend to drop me in Potchefstroom. I run back to Orkney about 50km away.”
He loves sport and his only regret is that he never had a chance to compete at the Olympics. “I will never stop running. I want to run until I am very old. Soon, I will be a master and I would like to do well in the older category. We will see what happens in next year’s Comrades,” says Matthews. He is clearly content, happy and still very much in love with running. The only thing missing in his life is a wife. “I just have not found the right one but I am desperately looking,” laughs Matthews.
- Won SA 5 000m title seven times (1982-1983 and 1985-1989)
- Won SA Cross Country Championships four times (1984 and 1986-88)
- Won SA 10km title four years in a row (1985-1988)
- Won SA 15km title (1985 and 1987)
- Won SA 21.1km title in (1985, 1987 and 1989)
PERSONAL BESTS ON THE TRACK
PERSONAL BESTS ON THE ROAD