George Munnik, the once-famous Parow Springbok athlete, is well-acquainted with long sprints.

His endurance endeavours on the sports field has since been mirrored by his long life – he turned 84 recently.
TygerBurger visited Munnik in his home to talk about sport and his life in general, but this turned out to be a futile exercise.
After all, how does one summarise a fascinating two-and-a-half hour interview in just 500 words?

He lived in Parow all his life, so one could really write a book on how things have changed.
Then he represented South Africa in various athletic competitions and each one of these is a story on its own.
So, when faced with such an impossible task, the last thing one should do is waste space by writing a sentence such as this…
Munnik, who was born in 1928, says: “I had six brothers and three sisters, and all the boys were good at some kind of sport.”

Back in 1928 Parow was “pretty raw” admits Munnik, but everyone knew everyone.
“People were much friendlier back then,” he says while looking off into the distance.
“We had a large piece of property at 146 Fairfield Road. We were always self-sufficient, so we had a garden and a couple of cows. My mother baked three loaves of bread every day for the kids,” he continues.

His father was a blacksmith at the railway works, which was where most of the people worked back then.
Munnik himself had a long stint in the railway industry, but sport was always close to his heart.
He ran the “half mile” (now 800 metres) and the “mile”, representing Western Province at many athletic meetings and specifically South African championships, where he set numerous records for the distances.
In the early 1950s he represented South Africa in what has become known as the “three tests”, where he beat the mighty Americans.

“From my school days I was keen on sports. I went to Parow Preparatory, then Parow Primary and then Parow High School. I always took part in sports. You mostly did a hundred yards, two hundred yards, long jump, high jump and so on. But the half mile was my event. I concentrated on that when I went to high school.”
He left school in the then Standard 8 and worked as an apprentice at the railway works.
He then became assistant foreman at the biggest railway workshop in the country – Salt River – and finally a bonus work inspector.

It is, however, his achievements in the Springbok jersey that defined him.
“In 1950 I ran for South Africa and my last championship was in about 1955. An American team came out to South Africa in 1950 and at that stage I was the country’s half-mile champion for two years. Their half-miler was a chap with the name Don Jacobs, who was fourth in the American championships. Their one mile champion was a guy with a surname of Hart.
“I wasn’t picked for the first test. I have a suspicion that the selector didn’t like me. I beat everyone who was picked originally. I told this selector that he must never give me the opportunity to run against those who were picked, because I’ll make you look terribly bad!’”

South Africa lost in the two events in the first test and then Munnik was finally picked for the second and the third.
It almost goes without saying that he excelled in these and walked away with the gold.
Munnik’s anecdotes popped up regularly in the interview and some of these were absolutely fascinating.

The man is now well into his 80s, but if his crystal clear recollections of yesteryear, and his verve in telling these is anything to go by, then he will go on to live another 80 years!