Marius Corbett – upsetting the World Order
“I’m still my mother’s son." These were Marius Corbett's profound words when I interviewed him in early 1998 in response to my question: “How did winning the World Title change you?” And for his entire athletics career, even to this day, Marius remains the most down to earth person you could meet.
Bursting onto the International Scene Marius Corbett stunned the world with his second round throw at the 1997 World Athletics Championships in Athens. His massive 88.40m effort left the rest of the field playing catch up. Left in his wake were legends of men’s Javelin throwing including Steve Backley, former World Champion and World Record Holder, Boris Henry of Germany, Sergey Makarov, Aki Parvianen and the greatest of them all, multiple Olympic Champion and World Record Holder, Jan Zelezny.
In the fact the latter probably caused his own downfall when he gave the young South African some advice whilst training in South Africa in the Summer of 1997. “Jan told me to improve my run up speed and I would throw further,” he shared.
I remember sitting glued to my TV Screen watching the World Championships. It was the first time we in South Africa could watch and follow the global championships in South Africa. I even went and got a subscription to MNet (Multichoice) for that reason – so I could watch the World Championships.
In the lead up to the World Championships, Marius had thrown a best of 83.90 in the Engen Grand Prix Meet in Pretoria. Although Marius was consistent high 70m and low 80m thrower, he was not considered to be a threat to the likes of Backley, Makarov, Henry, Parvianen and Zelezny. Marius was always regarded as an incredible protégé after clinching the African U20 Title and then winning the World Junior Title in 1994 but no one ever thought he would challenge and beat the greats of the sport.
Chatting to Steve Backley early in 1998 whilst on a training camp in Potchefstroom, the Brit just smiled wryly when I asked him about that day. “He blew us away. Round two. Boom. We were playing catch up the whole time and the pressure was all on us. It showed.”
Marius finished 6th in the qualifying rounds with a throw of 80.72. In the final his opening throw was 76.58m which placed him in 10th of the 12 competitors. Makarov, Henry and Mick Hill making the first statements with their opening salvo’s of 84.56m, 84.54m and 84.48m respectively. The great Zelezny recorded a no throw, in fact Zelezny would not qualify for the final three throw of the competition after a further no throw in the second round and only 82m in the third round. Only the top 8 placed athletes after three rounds in the final were allowed a further three throws.
Other than Zelezny, the competition was going to form with the big guns all peppering the 80m plus mark. That all changed in round two. Up stepped Marius Corbett. With not a flicker of emotion, Marius stood at the top of his mark, started his run up and then launched the projectile into the air. There is this iconic shot if you watch that throw. It is a low angle shot of him from the front running to the line. A packed stadium behind him. The next shot of the javelin flying through the air with the heads of spectators in the background. And then him watching for the result. Then a smile creased his face. As he walked away his friend Steve Backley gave him a huge hug.
Backley trained regularly in Potchefstroom and got to know Marius well. In fact the two, with a number of javelin throwers, local and international, would regularly “kuier” at Marius’ coach Tertius Liebenberg's home and have a braai.
After that second round throw, no matter what the rest of the competition threw at him, Marius’ lead was never seriously challenged. In fact his third round throw of 87.40m would have also been good enough for gold. Backley came through for the silver with a throw of 86.80m in the final round. Home town favourite, Kostas Gatsioudis, secured Bronze with his 86.64m effort in the second round.
1997 was proving to be a good year for Marius. He won the first of five consecutive National Titles in March, won six of his twelve competitions in the build-up to the World Championships and recorded five runner-up places and one 4th place finish that season, then the World title and three weeks later. Marius would add the World University title to his rapidly growing list of titles. Having gone beyond 85m in Athens, Marius was now a regular 85m plus thrower and he took that title with his 86.50m effort. At the age of 22 years, Marius had already notched up some pretty impressive scalps. World Junior Champion, Africa U20 Champion, World Champion and now World University Champion too.
Marius was a big, strapping young man. He was famous for literally throwing everything at the javelin, so much so that his trademark run up would regularly see him hit the track from the follow through of the release of the javelin. The force with which he heaved the javelin took its toll on his young body which was was plagued by an elbow injury that just did not want to go away.
The two best years of his career were 1997 and 1998. In the latter he would end the year with the Commonwealth Games title, winning that with a throw of 88.75m in Kuala Lumpur on 21 September. A week earlier he had won the Continental Cup for Africa in the newly opened Johannesburg Stadium with an 83.53 effort in wet and cold conditions. In those two years Marius clearly had the better of Backley. He beat the Brit into second place in Athens in 1997, beat him again at the World Cup in Johannesburg in 1998 and again at the Commonwealth Games.
Sadly though the constant elbow injury prevented Marius from reaching the heights of '97/'98 again. At 1999 World Athletics Championships he failed to make the final after placing 12th in the qualifying rounds. For one brief flash, Marius’ star burnt very brightly and to this day he is still the South African and African Record Holder in the Javelin. These days you can find Marius with his wife and four kids farming cattle in the Eastern Cape Town of Craddock.
A short career, but those two years were oh so heady years.
SA and Africa Record Holder – 88.75m
World Champion 1997
Commonwealth Games Champion 1998
World Cup Winner 1998
All Africa Games Champion 1999
World Student Champion 1997
World U20 Champion 1994
Africa U20 Champion 1994
Manfred Seidler has been in the media industry in athletics since 1994 having managed the media around a number of SA Track and Field Championships, SA Cross Country Championships and Road Championships. He also was the media account director on the hugely successful Engen Grand Prix Summer Series from 1995 to 1997 before being head hunted by the Television company Octagon CSI. Manfred founded the athletics TV Show Athletics Alive (later to become Engen Gijima) until the sponsor withdrew from the sport in 2003. During that time Manfred had the privilege of traveling the world and meeting and interviewing some of the best athletes in the world while he chased South Africa’s finest around the globe. Manfred resurrected Athletics Alive in 2011 on behalf of SABC and produced the show until 2016. He has covered three Olympic Games (2008/12/16 - was in London for 2012), the Commonwealth Games (2006/10/14/18) and was able to attend three World Championships. Manfred is now an accomplished Media Consultant with Athletics his biggest focus - and still his biggest passion.