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01 Aug, 2013

Portuguese Powerhouse

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Portuguese Powerhouse

Eloi De Oliveira can look back on quite some running career: A Comrades gold and 21 silvers, two gold medals in the Two Oceans (including third in 1989) on top of 18 silvers, a marathon PB of 2:18, plus several SA Champs titles and many KZN provincial titles from cross country to the marathon, from under-19 level right up to the Master (50-59) category. Today, at 55, he is still running competitively, alongside his slightly more famous wife Grace, herself a multiple Comrades and Two Oceans gold medallist. “We’re not as competitive these days, but for me, the obvious goal is to win my age category, or push myself to at least try beat the 40-year-olds!” says Eloi.

 

SETTLING IN

Born in Portugal in 1958, Eloi moved to South Africa when his father found construction work here in 1966. Ironically, Grace hailed from a village just 5km from his own, but the families did not meet until they became next door neighbours in Durban, where Grace soon became best friends with Eloi’s sister Fatima. “Grace invited me to her matric dance and we corresponded for two years while I was in the army, then married in 1983 – and then she had to start running, too!” says Eloi. They have a daughter Daniela, now 24, who regularly accompanied them to races when she was younger and has a good few runs under belt as well.

 

Eloi began running at school, joined Savages Athletic Club while studying engineering, and then ran his first Comrades in 1980 while doing national service. “I applied to run it, despite my training being limited to regular 2.4km runs with rifle and boots, because I thought it would be a nice week away from camp.” He ran 6:58:00 and has never finished slower than 6:59 in 22 Comrades. After the army, Eloi worked for Eskom, which led to a lecturing job at a technical college. “Then in 1987 I was sent to UCT to do a teaching qualification, which I followed up with a Masters in Education at UKZN, and I now teach high school mathematics in Durban.”

 

BEST YEARS

Eloi was another of the talented SA runners whose best years in the 80s unfortunately coincided with the sporting isolation years due to Apartheid. “I did run for the Junior Springboks in Cross-country in 1986, but by the time SA was back in international competition, I was getting long in the tooth. Grace went on to represent SA a few times, and I am immensely proud of everything she achieved.”

 

After many years of injury-free running, calf and hamstring problems have sidelined Eloi for much of the last two years, but he says he is still motivated to run. “There are days I feel that I’ve had 40 years of this and it’s time to retire and only run socially, but my competitive nature keeps me racing. So in a few years time I will be looking for titles in the grandmaster category!”

 

ELOI’s PBs

800m                2:01

1500m              4:02

3000m              8:32

5000m              14:40

10 000m            29:55

10km                30:30

15km                46:50

Half Marathon   1:05:56

Marathon          2:18:30

Two Oceans      3:20:45

Comrades         5:53:27