I have known Tommy Malone for a long, long time and I have read many stories of that Comrades in 1967 when Manie Kuhn beat him by just one second to record the closest finish in Comrades history and it’s unlikely that closest finish will ever change.
Of the many stories and not so much film footage I have seen of that finish I have yet to see the entire story from Tommy’s side anywhere and I have always thought that was strange, but when you know the man as I do, it’s not really surprising because he is a modest man who I doubt would try to make excuses and who has accepted that he was second and beaten my Manie Kuhn.
This is perhaps one of the most famous and talked about photos in Comrades history and the saddest part of it is that Tommy Malone is better known for coming second in 1967 than he is for winning the 1966 Comrades by the biggest margin since the sixties.
There have been many comments by many people about what was thought to have happened ranging from cramp to a car having hindered his entrance to the narrow run in at the Drill Hall where the race finished on those days on the down run. Having finished there myself a couple of times, I know it was a narrow entrance and in those days no such thing as road closures.
This has all bothered me for a many years so I sat with Tommy and asked him if the story from his point of view has ever been told and recorded and it seems that only bits and pieces have been told. When he told me this, I asked him if he would mind telling me the story of what actually happened as he saw it.
This is Tommy’s story. It is not an excuse. It is not a “blame anyone story”, it is simply what happened on 31st May 1967 as seen by the man who finished second.
I asked Tommy to go back on that Comrades Day and to tell me the story from there so here it is.
A group of runners went through Drummond together and on that nasty little hill coming out of Drummond, Tommy made his break from the pack and regarding himself as strong on the hills set out to tackle Alverstone and Botha’s Hill and the little climb into Hillcrest by which time he was out in front and alone. Remember that in 1967 there were only about 600 entries, so being alone during the race was quite common.
Down through Kloof, into Pinetown, up over Cowies Hill and down the other side and into Westville and then it happened. He was hit by severe cramp in his right calf muscle that brought him to a walk. His seconds were quick to react and they ran to a house alongside the route and asked whether the people living there had hot water to ease the cramp. They got the hot water, put it on his calf and it did no more than burn his leg.
His seconds asked him if he was able to run for another hour because that was all that was necessary to get to the finish. Tommy wasn’t sure but off he went.
In those days the run into Durban was very different in that it went passed the Mayville Hotel and down to the bottom of the long climb up passed Westridge Tennis Stadium and Tommy went up there but with his leg bothering him fairly badly because of the cramp. Over the top of Tollgate and the downhill run of around 5Km to the finish and someone shouted to him “If Kuhn had roller skates he couldn’t catch you”. Tommy now happy that despite the pain in his leg he was going to be OK.
Did that comment cost him the race? Who knows?
What Tommy did tell me was that the cramp was certainly taking everything out of him and he was tiring but he made his way towards the finish at DLI which was inside Greyville Racecourse. To get there, the runners had to go round the outside of the racecourse, a sharp left under a subway and then another sharp left into the fairly short run to the finish line.
There have been stories over the years that the baton containing the traditional mayoral message between the mayors of the start and finish cities, was handed to Tommy at Tollgate but this isn’t correct. It was handed to him as he was about to turn into the finish run in by an official who was quite happy in the knowledge that he had given it to the man who was going to win.
At the entrance to the finish a taxi was offloading spectators who wanted to see the end of the race and Tommy had to run around the front of it to get into the grounds and this probably added about 5 seconds to his time.
Did this cost him the race? Who knows?
What we don’t know is whether Manie Kuhn had to run around the taxi as well. If he did, the slight detour they then both had to do, balanced out.
Tommy, with the mayoral message in his hand made his way to the finish with about 50 metres to go and the idea that he was well clear of Manie who he believed was about two minutes behind him when he heard someone in the crowd yell “Come on Manie”. His immediate thought was that somebody was trying to pull the “proverbial”. He looked around and Kuhn was coming at him, as he described it to me, “like a steam train”.
Instinctively and sub consciously he surged forward and the calf muscle objected and gave in completely and down he went. He was fairly slow in getting up and whilst doing so turned round to see Manie bearing down on him.
Did that slow getting up and looking round cost him the race? Again, who knows?
When he did get up he tried to reach the finish line and down he went again and Manie Kuhn “flew” passed him to win the 1967 Comrades. The record books show he beat Tommy by one second but if you look at footage and the photo above that’s questionable if it was actually as much as that and modern technology could perhaps have shown it to be closer than that, but something else we’ll never know so we have to be content to settle for one second.
Not that it matters though. Tommy maintains that Manie won the 1967 Comrades, and as far as he’s concerned, there’s no doubt about that. Many people have asked him over the years whether, if roles were reversed, he would have helped Manie across the line to record a dead heat but as Tommy said to me “A Comrades win was at stake here” and if the roles were reversed, he would have done exactly as Manie had done.
One other story that I have read which is also not correct, is that after the loss in 1967, Tommy didn’t return to run Comrades for another four years, so distraught was he at the result. That’s not correct at all. Two weeks after Comrades, both his Achilles tendons gave in completely and it took several doctors and other medical people four years to get the very painful problem sorted out. Eventually Tommy was able to come back and run the 1971 Comrades and his aim now was to get his green number which he did in 1980 but give up being competitive? Not a chance. Maybe he was no longer able to win Comrades but his remaining eight finishes to get that green number were all silver.
A final bit of interesting information is that his race number – 62 – has gone green twice. Tommy turned it green in 1980 and some years later, his daughter, Amanda started running Comrades and in Tommy’s number 62 and in 2015 she turned the number green a second time.
So there you have it. Comrades 1967 according to Tommy Malone.