Deon Steyn chats to Crank

The “retro ball” has certainly kept rolling, with another former Longmile triathlete coming out of the “woodwork” for an interview.

Deon Steyn was one of the most consistent triathletes South Africa has ever produced – if there was a big race, you could bet Deon was there in the top three.

We were fortunate enough to chat to Deon this week about his tri days and what he is up to now.

CRANK: Could you tell us a bit about your sporting background prior to starting triathlons?

Deon Steyn: I attended one of the best “sport schools” in South Africa, Grey College in Bloemfontein. I swam competitively since I can remember, but never achieved much in swimming other than making our school swimming team. I played rugby for the ninth team and believe me, at Grey even the ninth team is fiercely competitive!. In standard nine I started playing water polo for Greys’s 1st side and played for Freestate schools in 1983 and 1984.

During my national service at the SA Navy Diving School, I soon realized that although I was never the fastest swimmer or runner, when we did “swim/runs”, I was faster than most. With this in mind and knowing that Barry van Jaarsveld completed the Durban Ironman, I decided to start triathlon.

CRANK: You’re from the Free State – were there many other triathletes around Bloemfontein at the time? Were you studying/working or a full-time athlete?

DS: We were an awesome group of guys that trained and raced together in Bloem. My training mates were Barry (“Pedro Delgado”) van Jaarsveld, my brother Derek Steyn (in all probability one of  the most talented triathletes that I knew), Danie Retief (national swimmer and Springbok biathlete), Tim Ziehl (currently still racing), John de Bruyn (great swimmer) and Adri Vermaas (bike shop owner at the time). We really pushed each other all the time.

I was a full time student at UOFS studying BSc Quantity Surveying, but spent every free moment training or racing.

CRANK: You were a member of the first ever Springbok triathlon team that competed against the French in 1988 – could you tell us who your teammates were and a bit about them?

DS: The team consisted of the following:

– Keith Anderson – my triathlon idol; this guy was the most talented sportsman I ever competed against and definitely the most competitive person I knew. He was known as the “Triathlon King”.
-Manfred Fuhs – Manfred was one of the pioneers of triathlon in South Africa and an awesome ultra distance triathlete.
– Gary Wilson – a wonderful cyclist and a very quiet and reserved guy. I always thought of him as a gentleman (Gary would go on to become a professional cyclist and complete several Rapport Tours).
– Me – the boy from Bloem, I was relatively unknown at the time of being selected and in all honesty only made the team because Michael Myers could not race at the Springbok trials when I came 4th. ( the last member of the team)
– Mandy Dean – the only lady in the squad and an awesome athlete with many international wins.
– Bill Green – the manager of the team and a personal friend of mine.

CRANK: How did the SA triathletes fair against the French? Did you guys dominate? Could you talk about the tests against the USA in 1989?

DS: Keith, as everyone expected, kicked butt in the first race in Gordons Bay. Michel Gavet from France finished second with a brilliant run. If memory serves, Michael Myers was third and I was fourth, the second Bok. I managed to beat Gary Wilson and Manfred Fuhs and then felt I deserved my spot in the team.

In the second race in Durban, Keith won. I came 5th, again the second Bok home. I was disappointed with my performance in that race.

In 1989 I made the Bok team for the second time with Keith and was joined by Simon Lessing and Tim Stewart. We competed in two tests against the US, a team that had Emilio de Soto and Rob Bistodeau, two fulltime athletes that were doing well on the US circuit. The first test was in PE. We kicked the USA team’s butts. Tim won, I was second and Andreas Lombardozzi  third.

The second test was in Gordons Bay. Keith did not finish as he had a sprained ankle, Tim came off his bike and I won the race in a new course record time of 1 hr 50 mins and 39 sec. The Bok team won both tests. We were chuffed.

l-r: Simon Lessing, Andres Lombardozzi, Michael Myers, Barry van Jaarsveld, Harald Zumpt, Rob Bistodeau, Kevin Rchards chasing the ellusive Deon...
... Here is Deon winning the 2nd test against USA in Gordans Bay

CRANK: You were part of the Longmile team. What did this sponsorship entail for you (wrt to equipment & travel etc)?

DS: Longmile was very good to me. Nic van den Bergh really helped to put triathlon in SA on the map. Longmile provided us with all our racing kit and clothing, they paid all my traveling expenses to and from races and they provided me with a Lejeune bike to race with. I felt like a pro…
I can never thank Nic enough for his support.

Because I was based in Bloem, I had very little interaction with the other Longmile team members, only saw them at races.

CRANK: Could you share with us your favourite Keith Anderson story?

DS: At the SA Champs in 1989, Keith, Andreas Lombardozzi, Kevin Richards and I came off the bike together. We managed to drop Kevin and Andreas in the run. In the last kilometer, Keith said to me to look behind if Simon (Lessing) or Tim (Stewart) was coming. I did and when I looked forward again, Keith made a couple of yards on me and outsprinted me for the SA title. The guy was street wise when it came to racing, he taught me a lot. Afterwards Keith said to me sportingly, “This was for drilling me in Gordons Bay at the WP Champs”.

In my opinion, Keith was the best triathlete this country has ever had.

Keith Anderson and Barry van Jaarsveld (sitting) in SA navy dive school 1985

CRANK: You guys from that era were exceptionally tough and fast – could you tell us a bit about your training methods back then? What made you guys so good?

DS: Our training methods were far from scientific. In our minds, the more you trained, the better you would be.
Of all the guys that made the four Springbok teams, I most probably had the least amount of natural ability, but what I lacked in natural ability, I made up in the ability to train and race hard.

I trained swimming with the top swimmers in Bloem, I trained often on the bike with top cyclists Frans Kruger and Jaco Kellerman and often joined Leon Botha’s running squads that coached Zola Budd and Jacques van Rensburg.

Most of our bike rides ended in average speeds of 40k/hour, we seldom did training runs slower than 35-40min for 10k and when we swam, we tried to keep up with the top swimmers in the province.  This could have attributed to us being “fast”.

CRANK: What were the highlights of your triathlon career?

DS: – Being selected for the first ever Springbok Triathlon Team in 1988;
– Beating Keith Anderson at the 1989 WP Champs in a new course record;
– Being the only athlete selected in all four Springbok Triathlon teams ever selected;
– Winning the 1989 International Triathlon in Gordons Bay;
– Making great friends during my triathlon days.

CRANK: What made you decide to eventually call it a day?

DS: Getting quite sick and being diagnosed with M.E. I think all the years of training too hard eventually caught up with me.

CRANK: What are you up to these days

DS: I am a director of Calgro M3 Holdings, a property development company listed on the Alt-X of the JSE of which I am a founding member together with my brothers. We specialize in residential developments ranging from low income RDP developments to high income residential estates.

I am married to my high school sweetheart Riana and we have two children Luke (4) and Sarah-Anne (2).

I still do the odd mountain bike ride, but since being hit by a bus in 1996, I have not been able to do any running or swimming.

Interview courtesy Jason Bailey