A former Hewat Training College student and South African 100m sprint record holder, Roman, was honoured with a memorial meet, last week.
South Africa’s expulsion from international sport due to its apartheid regime, prevented Roman and others from their rightful place on the world stage, said his former coach Eddie May.
In 1969, Roman smashed the South African 100m sprint record with a blistering time of 10.4 – at a time when the world record stood at 10.0 seconds. The sprinter who died in February following a battle with cancer – and 20 other sports stars of yesteryear – were given recognition for their triumphs in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, at the meet last Tuesday.
May, who helped the sprinter reach the speeds that he did, was also present at the memorial – along with former rival, Herman Gibbs.
The PlaySport4Life organisation set up the event, and convener Allan O’Ryan said it would be the first of many which would honour the former athletic stars.
While speaking to the Bulletin, May had a glimmer in his eyes and a big smile on his face as he spoke about how he met Roman.
May was one of the top coaches in his day, and athletes from across Cape Town wanted to train with him. He coached athletes from various clubs including high schools including South Peninsula and Trafalgar high schools.
In 1980, May moved to Canada where he coached their national athletes and became assistant Olympic coach in 1994.
“It’s a funny story how I came to meet Kenny. At the time, I used the college grounds without permission. My guys used to jump over the fence before the police came and chased us off.
“When the police left, then we’d just jump over again and that’s how we trained,” said May.
The college authorities eventually got fed up with May and his athletes and came to an agreement that he could use the facilities on condition that he also train the college athletes.
“I obviously said yes, and from that day on, that’s where my coaching happened,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Roman made his way to Hewat College where the two would finally meet.
“I met Kenny when he was about 19 years old. Kenny was a strong athlete, he trained hard and never gave up. We used to train five times a week.
“He broke the record after about two and a half years under my mentorship. We used to do a lot of running up the Rhodes memorial steps and the forest, also at Strandfontein Pavilion.
“I took Kenny in as a son and he lived at my house in Athlone. He excelled in 100m but also ran well in the 200m.
“Outside of the regular training on the track, I also taught him ballroom dancing. I felt that my athletes needed to have rhythm and be loose – and thought dance would do the trick.
“My wife at the time tried to ensure that he ate well at home, so we always cooked healthy food, but he kept asking for chicken curry and rootie, which was his favourite dish,” said May.
The former Olympic coach was passionate about developing young upcoming athletes, and also coached 200m SA record champion Gareth McLean and Durban’s Ismail Kolia who later broke McLean’s record in 1975.
May said despite Roman’s sensational form on the track, his passion lied in baseball where he donned the jersey of the Maitland Giants.
“If we had to race on a Saturday then it would always be a struggle because we couldn’t get Kenny away from the baseball.
“Last year, I met with him after a long time, and he asked me to come back to South Africa this year to help him with coaching. And, it’s just unfortunate that he passed away when I came back,” said May.
Gibbs also spoke fondly about his former rival, and remembered how they became friends in 1968. Gibbs was the first sprinter of the Western Province Senior School’s Sports Union to run under 22 seconds in the 200m event.
“Kenny was four years older than me and I remember first meeting him when we toured with the Western Province team in Durban. I ended up sharing a room with him and we became quite close after that,” said Gibbs.
“We tried to train together regularly but the following year we ran in the same age group and became rivals. I was running for Alexander Sinton High School at the time and called an end to my athletics in 1971.
“Miles October from PlaySport4Life started a hall of fame for the legends and it’s great that there’s now some recognition. I feel that it should have come a long time ago because now not many of us are still around,” he said.
Allan O’Ryan said the memorial was to recognise Roman’s achievement because he and many others were never awarded accolades for the victories.
“Kenny was the fastest school boy while at Harold Cressy High School, but was never awarded anything in terms of SA colors because we were separated. He had his WP colors though, and was a SA champion,” said O’Ryan.
“At that time, we ran on the cinder track because we needed to apply for a permit to run on the Green Point tar track. The cinder track was less than 1km away from the Green Point track.
“We invited all the schools in the Western Province and the schools who responded competed at the memorial. Also present were SA champions of the 60s, 70s and 80s, who were acknowledged for what they did.
“Going forward, we will be setting up a legends hall of fame and continue to get hold of many other past athletes. And, we hope to set up a high performance centre where we’ll be nurturing promising athletes,” he said.