Comrades prankster and 1962 ‘winner’ honoured

2009-10-26 00:00

A COMRADES legend was honoured on Saturday night by Collegians Club, as Cyril Langlois was afforded a surprise 80th birthday party.

Langlois, who went down in Comrades folklore as the 1962 “winner”, was still in a state of pleasant shock when The Witness caught up with him as the festivities wound down.

“I couldn’t believe all this,” he beamed. “I was just sitting at the bar enjoying a Castle and suddenly all this was happening,” he added.

“I am still in shock and very humbled by this gesture,” said the man who shocked a nation by performing what must be one of sport’s greatest hoaxes.

On that famous day in the sixties, Langlois dreamt up the idea of being the first man across the line for the Comrades, while sitting at the bar at Collegians.

Borrowing sweaty kit from a runner who had already been picked up along the daunting route, Langlois embarked on his epic run with less than a kilometre to the finish.

As fans cheered for the man whom they thought was pre-race favourite Jackie Mekler, an exhausted Langlois stumbled, stalled and then crawled his way over the finish line, slipped past the city mayor and made a beeline for the bar.

“I wanted a Castle — it’s the only beer I drink since arriving here in 1949!” the French-born former car salesman explained with a sparkle in his eye.

The greatest tragedy of Langlois’s daring antics is that no footage exists. In the days before live television coverage, the newsreel men were so infuriated at being suckered into using up their only roll on the “winner”, that they destroyed the evidence and denied its existence.

“I pleaded with them to sell it to me,” Langlois lamented on Saturday night. “But they weren’t having it, telling me that no such thing had happened.

“I still follow the Comrades closely every year,” he said, adding that the race will always have a special place in his heart.

In the modern era of ultra-tight security at even the opening of an envelope, Cyril Langlois’s prank has become even more legendary for its sheer cheek and originality. More is the pity that we cannot relive those priceless few minutes ever again.

But those who were there know that, for a few minutes at least, good ol’ Cyril was the toast of Maritzburg. They were toasting him again on Saturday night and, at 80 years young, Langlois looks perfectly capable of slipping under the radar once more.

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