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South Africa Loses Running Legend

Jan Barnard was a running "jack of all trades."

Jan Barnard was a running “jack of all trades.”

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Jan Barnard, one of the best and most versatile distance runners produced in South Africa, passed away on his 83rd birthday last weekend. Barnard was the first South African athlete to receive Springbok (national) colours for all three disciplines of athletics: track, road and cross-country running. The figure three played a big role in his career.

Johannes Hendrikus Barnard was born in Lichtenburg on October 21, 1929, and first represented South Africa at the 1954 Commonwealth Games. He won the bronze medal in the dramatic marathon which saw Jim Peters (GBR) succumb to heat exhaustion on his last, harrowing lap in the stadium. Barnard’s big rival, Jackie Mekler, won the silver medal; the times of the two South Africans were 2:40:57 and 2:51:49.8 respectively.

About two months before the Games, after having placed third behind Mekler and Wally Hayward in the S.A. Marathon, he had won the trials race in a new national record of 2:25:31.8 in Port Elizabeth – more than 3 minutes ahead of Mekler.

Four years later, when the Games were held in Cardiff, Barnard moved up one position to claim the silver medal behind Dave Power (AUS), 2:22:45.6 to 2:22:57.4. He had won the trials race in 2:36:30.2, with Mekler fourth.

In 1956 he improved his national record to 2:21:37.2, again in Port Elizabeth. This record placed him eighth on the world list for the year and stood for almost a decade.

Barnard won the South African Marathon title three times, in 1955 (2:36:39.6), 1956 (2:37:36) and 1958 (2:28:04), and in the same three years also won the title in the 6 miles. All these races were held at altitude.

Coincidentally, in his other three attempts at the S.A. Marathon he placed third each time, with Mekler second on each occasion: in 1960 (2:34:27.2), 1963 (2:34:34) and 1964 (2:32:31.6).  He is the only man who won the national cross-country title five times: in 1953, 1955, 1956, 1961 and 1963.

In 1955 Barnard competed on the track against the visiting West German team and in 1962 represented South Africa on the international cross-country tour. At the 1956 Olympic Games, when he was one of the main contenders for a medal, an injury prevented him from finishing the marathon.

Barnard set four South African records during his career:
2 miles 9:20.2 19 Jan 55
10 miles 51:40.4 31 Jan 55
6 miles 30:23.4 11 Apr 55
6 miles 30:07.3 28 Apr 56

After his retirement from competitive running, Barnard became a top coach and guided the careers of Fanie van Zijl, Andries Krogmann, Sonja Laxton, Bernard Rose, Koos Keyser and Bea Marais, among others.
Barnard was awarded the Helms Trophy as the top sportsman in Africa in 1955 and in the same year the readers of a national newspaper selected him as South Africa’s Sportsman of the Year by an overwhelming margin.