IN the same way in which rock acts like to proclaim their undying love of performing in front of noisy Scottish crowds, it is customary for visiting sports people to ingratiate themselves with platitudes about their fond memories of competing in Caledonia. The only problem for Zola Budd (whose married name is Pieterse) at Stirling Castle yesterday as she prepared to participate in the inaugural Stirling Marathon on Sunday, is that the only memories she has of Scotland are bad ones.

The last time this 50-year-old from Bloemfontein was in Scotland it was July 1985 and she was competing at Meadowbank Stadium, a teenage lightning rod at the centre of a huge geo-political news story. With her native South Africa being ostracised from the global sporting community as part of the ongoing battle against apartheid (an agreement signed, co-incidentally in Gleneagles) Budd, egged on by the Daily Mail, had sought a UK passport of convenience for the 1984 Olympics, and become a symbol of how western governments could get around the regulations.

The city council hanging a huge sign [“Edinburgh against Apartheid”], leading to a TV blackout, was bad enough. But things really got out of hand when two protesters invaded the track when the race was in full flow, forcing Budd, and her rival Yvonne Murray, to take avoiding action.

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“I don’t really have fond memories,” admitted Budd, now a resident of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, who until 2014 at least was keeping herself fit by running ultra marathons of up to 50 miles. “The last time I came to Scotland, there were a few demonstrators around on the track. But the Scottish people have always been very supportive.

“It was tough,” recalled the 50-year-old, who famously courted controversy when being accused of tripping home favourite Mary Decker in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “Because by the time you got to the actual race, you were so exhausted from trying to fight off all the politics. Just getting to the race and being involved was exhausting. I don’t think people realised how tough it was.

“They did come on the track at Meadowbank and it was scary stuff. Today there would be security people on the track but then there weren’t that many. There were two guys there - the police got one but the other lay flat on the inside off the rail and Yvonne and I had to go around him. It was a mile but I almost did the steeple.”

Budd racked up a couple of World Cross Country gold medals and that wasn’t bad considering the baggage that she was forced to drag around with her from one athletics meet to the next. Indeed, it is only in recent times, that she has been able to reconnect with the pure enjoyment she got from running as a child. “I think if I had just been able to be a normal athlete and not the political scapegoat I was made out to be, it would have been so much easier,” she said yesterday. “I’d have liked to have been seen as a runner rather than an easy target. At that time, to blame me for everything that was wrong in South Africa, was very unfair. It’s particularly unfair because I see sport as that sacred area where people can come together. Athletics is very individual. You’re not a team and for me, running is a very spiritual experience, so a lot of things were robbed from me at that stage. Now I’m older, I get back that feeling of running as a child. That freedom.”

As it happens, Budd isn’t the only veteran of that Edinburgh meet among an impressive 7,000 entrants on the start line tomorrow. Liz McColgan-Nuttall tended to run longer distances than Budd but she recalls that meeting in the Scottish capital and there is enough respect between the pair that the Scot can laugh about it all now. “I ran against Zola in Edinburgh - that was when the protesters sat on the track and we all had to hurdle them,” said McColgan-Nuttall. “I beat Zola but I think that was because she got elbowed off the track – and that was just me! It was my upbringing! I said to her today ‘are you running in your bare feet on Sunday?’ She said no so I said ‘that’s a pity because I was going to stand on your feet!’

“What annoyed me most was the people around her,” recalls McColgan-Nuttall. “The circus surrounding it annoyed people but no one bothered as athletes. But I do remember thinking it was really unfair at the time. I shared a room with her a few times and I remember the circus. Her minders didn’t have a clue what they were doing either. It was child abuse, in a way. She was 17, she didn’t know anybody. All of sudden, she is in a foreign country and people were not happy she was here. It was an awful lot for anybody to deal with, not just a 17-year-old who, by the way, was very quiet and immature at 17 because she was sheltered in South Africa. But choices were made, she survived it and is happy and healthy.”

With thankfully less controversy, another waif-like runner is threatening the records of both those distance running greats in the form of Scotland’s own Laura Muir. Having already taken McColgan’s 25-year indoor mark for the 5,000m, her next task is breaking Budd’s 32-year-old British mile record outdoors of 4.17.57secs at the London Anniversary Games on 9 July. “About time,” says Budd. “After 30 years, I think it’s time to take it. And I’d be glad if it were her. Records are made to be broken. They are not yours to keep. They are temporary. And I think she will do it. With the 1500m times she’s been running, she just needs to be in the right race with the right pacing and the right motivation.” And surely to do it all so young makes it even more impressive? “What age is she, 24?” says Budd. “I was 18 when I did it.”