Sydney Maree brings all of the anger and frustration with international sport and how cruel one man can be toward another to a boil. He is a gifted young runner with nowhere to run, who is being denied the chance to compete in the world's brightest spotlight for the same reason that allowed him to compete at all.
If Maree were not so talented, if he had not run the fastest mile in the world this year, he could continue to quietly break social and athletic barriers once considered unyielding. And if he were not a black African with a mind, not cursed with the ability to see all sides of the controversy that swirls about him, Maree surely would be less troubled.
One part of him craves the attention his ability merits, worldwide meets and the Olympics, and which seem certain to be denied him. Yet another part of him realizes that his sacrifice, the public outrage it will inspire, could cause immensely positive action beyond sport.
Now and then, all of this inner turmoil erupts. He says, in a remarkable piece by Tom Jordan in the latest Track & Field News: "I am nothing in South Africa. I am nothing outside of it. I don't have a home, really. I am an outcast wherever I go."
Maree knew it was only a matter of time before his extraordinary running would run him into international politics. That happened last week, when he was denied entry into one meet, and this week he withdrew from another because his presence would make several other runners athletic nonpersons.
All of this begins with the unconscionable racial policies of South Africa. Nine years ago, the International Track Federation suspended South Africa from the Olympics. Three years ago, South Africa was banned from the federation, meaning that anyone who competed against the country also would lose its accreditation.
While South Africa was being forced to liberalize its sports program. Maree was becoming one of its promising runners. He was so good that a biracial group, the Committee for Fairness in Sport, financed a trip for him to the United States two years ago.
Villanova contacted him, offered him a scholarship and he will begin his junior year this fall. His previous competition against international runners was overlooked, although a confrontation was inevitable the closer the '80 Olympics came.
Tomorrow in Philadelphia, an event billed as the "Magnificent Mile" will take place. It will include New Zealanders John Walker and Rod Dixon, Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan, and Don Paige and Steve Scott of the U.S.
Having been denied access last week to a meet in New Jersey, Maree desperately wanted to compete. At an emotional press conference Tuesday, Maree looked Walker and some others in the eye and asked them to run with him, knowing the response in advance.
"The black Africans we competed against were our friends until two weeks before the ('76) Olympics," said Walker, referring to the boycott of the Montreal Games by 36 nations because a New Zealand rugby team had played a South African team. "Since that time, when we walk into a room where they are. they turn away from us, not because they want to but because they've been told to.
"These are fellows we (once) roomed with. We talked with the man (Abraham Ordiah of Nigeria) who runs the African federation and he made it clear he is not interested in individuals.Not in New Zealanders, not in Sydney Maree - only in the ultimate political cause."
Replied Maree: "What could they do if you all stood with me? What kind of 1,500 meters would there be at the '80 Olmpics without you, Eamonn and Don?"
"Do you think they care?" Walker said.
Maree knows all too well that other famous runners not being able to compete in the Olympics, whether voluntary or not, helped him develop into a world-class runner. Because white South Africans - among them Danie Malan, whose records Maree wants to eclipse - were denied international competition, black Africans were given once-unthinkable privileges.
What if someone had made an exception for Malan? Those benefits for blacks would have been delayed, if even implemented at all. And what if Mike Boit and so many other wondrous black Africans had run in Montreal? The international federation might timidly have backed off banning South Africa.
"At this point," Maree told Jordan, "it is a question of what does the world want, really? Sport is now open in South Africa, but the world wants the policies of the government to change, too. After competing in meets, we go back home to the same environment.
"The world should put up really tough bargaining. If the pressure is lifted too early, then the changes might stop. If it means I must stay out of the Olympics, get my people squared away and make things better . . ."
As a man mature beyond his 22 years, Maree knew exactly how that thought should end. As a runner who has devoted countless hours to being the best in the world at one supreme time, he could not bring himself to say it. CAPTION: Picture, Sydney Maree