By Bruce Fordyce
Who remembers badges? I do, but then I suppose that is because I started running back in the 1970’s. In those days badges were the coveted hand out at the end of most races. Medals were only handed out at very prestigious or very tough races. Medals were all more or less the same size; about the size of a large coin. They were more or less identical and only close inspection of the embossed lettering told the holder that this was a Two Oceans or a Korkie finisher’s medal. Ribbons were simple and usually in one colour. The Comrades medal was still the smallest and least impressive but it did come in a smart SA Mint box and was posted, already engraved, to the recipient. It did not have a ribbon.
T-shirts were almost unheard of. If I recall correctly the odd race like Comrades offered them for sale and usually only at designated shops and only if the prospective purchaser could offer proof that he or she was an official race finisher. Most race T shirts were made by individual clubs and sponsors. Roy Greenberg’s Jeppe tyres Comrades T shirts were highly sort after and were a different design and colour each year. Roy and Geoffrey handed a few out to mates and Rocky Road Runners and those who had not yet received one were known to loiter with intent close to one of the Greenberg brothers.
No, badges were the thing in those days and so it was with a start and a wry smile that at the finish of a race the other day I heard an older runner standing behind me in the finish area mutter;
“I miss badges”
I had to agree. But then that’s the philatelist in me. My Grandfather was a postmaster and I inherited his wonderful and meticulously collated stamp collection. Like him I’m a collector and badges were fun to collect. Medals often end up in a dusty drawer or shoe box and my T shirts are mostly worn by neighborhood gardeners. I used to collect my badges in an album just like a stamp collector and when I open that album wonderful memories flood back. I can look at the Skukuza half marathon badge with its wild dog spoor design, the Jackie Gibson badge with a photo of the long dead legend, the 1977 Goue Weste marathon bedecked with mielies, the Pirates 21.i with ferocious skull and crossbones, and the Edblo-Lewis Stores family fun 5km. with my depressingly young face on it. Some badges even came with additional flashes that boast the vintage of the badge or the honorable words “sub 3hours”
My album houses my badges, but many runners sewed them onto their track suits. Like boy scouts and girl guides they gained more status as the badges eventually smothered their track suits. Runners like Robbie Dallas-Orr (Where is Robbie today?) from Helderberg Harriers were walking badges. Their tracksuits were smothered in a rainbow of coloured badges.
Now badges are almost gone. There is still a badge and flash handed out at Comrades and I think you can still buy a Two Oceans finishers badge. The last almost extinct dinosaurs of the badge era are the small square badges given for permanent numbers earned in races like the Comrades/Two Oceans and Loskop marathons But rather like a philatelist dreading electronic messaging and the decline of his hobby I see that an era has passed. Does anyone else miss badges?