Chet Sainsbury, former race director of the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM), died on Tuesday after a long cancer battle. He was 73 years old.
Mr Sainsbury was widely regarded as one of the most influential administrators in South African running.
In addition to serving as the OMTOM race director for almost 30 years, he was also a director on the board of the Two Oceans Marathon NPC.
He also held numerous positions within the road running community, including serving on the SA Road Running Commission. He was Vice-chairperson of Western Province Athletics and Chair of Western Province Road Running and Celtic Harriers Club.
When he retired as OMTOM race director, Mr Sainsbury took over the reins as race director of the Landmarks Half Marathon.
Shortly afterwards, his immeasurable contribution to the running community earned him the Civic Honours by the Protea Sub-Council of the City of Cape Town, in recognition of his work to promote the area through these two events.
Mr Sainsbury’s long-time friend and a member of Celtic Harriers for 50 years, Harold Berman shared his memory of the man known as “Mr Two Oceans”.
“Chet’s total involvement as athlete and administrator from 1981 to 2016 – a period of 36 years’ of service with his attention to detail and his passion and commitment, leadership and integrity – will not be bettered for a very, very long time, if ever.
“And at the same time, he had a full time job (42 years at Old Mutual), raising a family and an equally committed and devoted wife in Annemarie, who was secretary in the Two Oceans Marathon Office (and partly in her lounge at home) for a period of 21 years.
“At the same time, he trained on the road, ran many, many races and achieved a permanent number for successfully completing 10 times in each of the following: Puffer, Foot of Africa, Redhill, Winelands, Rhodes, Cape Peninsula and Cape Town Marathons.
“He was awarded the triple laurel for completing 30 Two Oceans Marathons. The latter included 3 Silver Medals. He also received his green number at the Comrades Marathon.
“I have been a member of Celtic Harriers for over 50 years and I can state with conviction that he has done the most for the club’s success during my period serving.
“Chet has strengthened the brand of Two Oceans, the most beautiful marathon in the world. He has fully deserved the many accolades bestowed upon him, from life membership of Celtic Harriers Club and Western Province Athletics to a Merit Award from the South African Amateur Athletic Union.
“We will always remember Chet as a fair, honest and upright man who was always thorough in whatever he did. He imparted his knowledge and taught others,” said Mr Berman.
Mr Sainsbury enjoyed legendary status in the running community – despite a late start at the age of 35 – and he often joked about being greeted like a friend by complete strangers while on training runs or races.
He earned an incredible 32 medals at the Two Oceans Marathon (31 for the Ultra Marathon), with a personal best of 3:58.01.
In addition to over 100 marathons, he also ran a number of other ultra events, including the Comrades Marathon (earning 14 medals) and the Puffer.
He also received special recognition while participating in the Two Oceans Marathon: The Honourable Order of Hout Bay Artillerymen would fire a canon from the Chapman’s Peak East Fort to mark the leading man and woman passing by on Race Day. But between 1981 and 2008 – the year he retired as race director – a third canon shot was fired, when Mr Sainsbury came past.
“I used to tell the guys around me to expect a big bang, and this happened for a number of years until I retired as race director, when I asked them to stop firing the canon for me,” he once explained in an interview.
Together with his wife, Annemarie, they were a collective force in the running world.
She had been the secretary for Celtic Harriers at the time he became the OMTOM race director, and she finally retired as race secretary 21 years later.
The Sainsbury medal, a coveted OMTOM medal for achieving an Ultra time of between four and five hours, was introduced in honour of the couple in 2006.
Ironically, Mr Sainsbury could never earn the medal named after him, and missed it by four minutes that same year.
A talented loose forward in his younger years, Mr Sainsbury served as the chairperson of the Villager Rugby Club. He also worked at Old Mutual for over 40 years before retiring in 2003, when he was the company’s national sponsorship manager.
As an enthusiastic cyclist, he participated in 24 Cape Town Cycle Tours between 1980 and 2014. And in 2011 Mr Sainsbury became the only runner/cyclist to have completed 30 OMTOM Ultras and 21 Cape Town Cycle Tours.
Chet Sainsbury was a visionary. He introduced the kind of innovations and changes – some controversial – required to boost the stature of the Two Oceans Marathon.
from local run to global icon. He will be dearly missed.