The Herculean efforts of Shadrack Hoff
To watch Shadrack Hoff running is to watch poetry in motion. He glides gracefully along while churning out kilometres at a blistering pace. His grace and poise make it seem as though he is floating, when in reality he is flying. Even now at the age of 47, if you see Shadrack running you will marvel at the seemingly effortless ability he has to coast along.
SA Record in Gateshead
On 2 July 1995 in Gateshead, England, Shadrack Hoff stood on the start line of the men’s 5000m. A date with destiny loomed. Standing next to the lean 1.73m athlete were such names as Fita Bayissa (an Olympic and World Championship Bronze Medallist in the 5000m), Salah Hissou (who would go on to win the 5000m gold at the 1999 World Championships and Bronze in the 10 000m in Atlanta 1996 and Athens 1997) and Rob Denmark, the 1994 Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist in the 5000m.
Shadrack had been cleaning up the tracks back home in South Africa earlier in the year, effortlessly clocking 7:46.07 for 3000m on the 25 February and 13:19.84 in the 5000m in Stellenbosch on 11 February to give a glimpse of what was to come later that year. But it was in Gateshead that Shadrack showed his class. At the end of the 12 and a half laps, the clock read 13:14.16 behind the name of Shadrack Hoff in what was the biggest win of his career then. Hissou wasn’t far behind (13:14.72) with local favourite Rob Denmark rounding out the top three (13:15.83). It was a new South African record.
Shadrack undoubtedly had the ability to break 13min for the 5000m. The biggest obstacle though, was the lack of opportunities. He needed to be in races in Europe with the world’s best, but getting there was a challenge. “It was very different in those days than it is now. Now you base yourself in Europe for longer periods of time in camps such as NN Running and it is easier to travel to races. Back then we flew in, raced and flew home. It wasn’t easy.” Shadrack was managed by Jos Hermens who these days looks after the likes of Eliud Kipchoge and Joshua Cheptegei and has managed such legends as Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele. So Jos was the perfect manager for the talented Shadrack. “We did discuss it, breaking 13min, but we just could not find the right race at the right time for me. It just wasn’t feasible”, says Shadrack.
Glimpses of Greatness – taking on the world’s best
From early on in his running career, Shadrack already showed immense talent. At the age of 19 he represented South Africa at the World Junior Championships in Seoul in 1993. The little maestro finished 6th in 13:56.16. In 1994, Shadrack travelled to the United States to compete in one of the most prestigious races on the American Road Circuit, the Utica Boilermaker 15km. He finished 4th, crossing the line in 43.47 He defeated the great Arturio Barrios as well as Khalid Khanouchi in that race and chased the then inform Benson Masya.
South African athletics fans will remember how versatile and devasting he was in the Engen Summer Series and the ABSA Series, recording win after win after win against some of the best middle distance runners ever seen in the country.
But I will never forget how Shadrack was not afraid to take it to the big names of the World when South Africa hosted the World Cross Country Championships in Stellenbosch in 1996. A six lap 2km course was laid out on the rugby and hockey fields of the University Grounds. Lap after lap, Shadrack was right in the mix, even leading at times. And the crowd were in a frenzy. Such was the course design that if you were a spectator in the infield you could run from one point to another in continuous support of the athletes. Shadrack was cheered loudly throughout the race. Here was their very own taking on the likes of Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie. Only towards the latter part of the race did Shadrack lose touch with the leaders. He came home in 15th which was the best ever showing by a South African at the World Cross Country Championships. Ahead of him such living legends as Paul Tergat, Salah Hissou, Ismael Kirui, Paul Koech and Haile Gebrselassie.
Success on the Roads
2001 proved to be a year of monumental success for Shadrack on the roads. The then 28-year-old was in the prime of his life and racked up number of international victories. Shadrack had a busy South African season, competing in 9 races in the Absa and Engen series, winning all three of the 5000m races he lined up in.
But it was the second half of the year that Shadrack hit the roads on the international circuit - and “cleaned up”. Eight races ranging from10km to the Half Marathon saw Shadrack finishing in second in six of the races and winning two. The list of races were impressive. Atlanta Peach Tree 10km (second), Utica Boilermaker 15 km, Utica, NY (second), Bogota Half Marathon, Bogotá (second), Flint 10 miles, Flint, MI (second), Virginia Beach Half Marathon, Virginia Beach, VA (winner), Chula Vista Arturo Barrios 10k Invitational, Chula Vista, CA (second) and Phoenix 10 km, Phoenix, AZ (second) The American Circuit in those days was the place to be for Road Running, and Shadrack’s success is testament to his incredible talent and work ethic.
Shadrack also boasts the best ever 5km clocking after his 13:30 in Carlsbad in 2003. The land of the free and home of the brave as the Americans call it, certainly was a happy hunting grounds for Shadrack. (This should be an SA Record, however records for the 5km on the road were only introduced by World Athletics in 2019 and so the performance stands as a South African best).
Rarely has there been athlete with such range and versatility. Shadrack could race and win events from the 1500m all the way to the Half Marathon and his personal bests are astounding (see side bar). Shadrack represented South Africa on nine occasions with his best effort finishing 6th at the World Half Marathon Championships in Brussels in 2002.
Even today when Shadrack arrives at a race, the next generation will be looking up to him and asking for his advice. And so they should, such is his ability, that at the age of 42, Shadrack qualified for and represented South Africa at the 2015 World Cross Country Championships. Class is permanent as they say.