A tribute to Mark Manolios

HARARE - One of Zimbabwe’s finest sports administrators, Mark Manolios took his last breath at a South African hotel on Monday night plunging the local sports fraternity into mourning.

Manolios succumbed to heart failure. He was 78.

As the nation mourns and commemorates the death of one of Zimbabwe’s finest hockey players and administrators, memories of my last in-depth interview with Manolios come flooding back.

It was back in May 2012 when he invited me together with our Chief Photographer, Annie Mpalume to his Mt Pleasant home for a chat.

The affable Manolios recounted how he became the first Prince Edward School pupil to be awarded full colours for his exploits in hockey back in 1957.

“I never quite made it to the very top as a player but I think this helped me because it was really a good learning curve,” Manolios told the Daily News back then.

“It was very good for me because it taught me to understand that there can be no favouritism in sport and in selection, instead you pick the best men for the job.”

After completing his education at PE, Manolios moved on to play hockey for Old Hararians which he rated as one of the best sides in the country.

He also played for the provincial Mashonaland side. His teammates in the Mashonaland team all made it into the national side.

“I watched sport since I was nine years old, and I remember listening to the 1948 Olympic Games on the radio sitting next door to  it in London,” Manolios said of his passion for sport.

“I used to wait for the newspaper to arrive at around 11 o’clock while I was in Chinhoyi and would start to read it from back to front.”

Beside his passion for hockey, he later developed into a renowned umpire, coach and later on as sports administrator.

Manolios officiated in 11 pre-Olympic matches at the 1972 Games, where he sat together with various selectors and coaches, listening to their team talk, which increased his knowledge of the game and helped him in the long term to take up coaching on a full time basis.

Manolios became the national men’s coach from 1970 up to 1986. His team enjoyed success in overseas assignments with players such as Gerald Peckover, Marshall Page and Alan Peake forming the backbone of the squad.

At one point the men’s team was ranked eighth in the world, winning a bronze medal at an Eight Nations Tournament in the 1980s.

It was no mean achievement, considering that they beat European champions Spain twice in one week on their way to third place finish.

Manolios also served as a member of the Zimbabwe Olympic Committee for 26 years. For seven years of his tenure, he was the committee’s treasurer before he was elected as the vice-president.

While attached to the Zimbabwe Olympic team, Manolios witnessed the golden era of the golden girls, who sensationally won a gold medal in hockey at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

He was also present when swimmer Kirsty Coventry now Zimbabwe Sports minister won her first gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004.

In 2012 he was serving his fourth term as a member of the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC).

Coming from a sporting background, Manolios’ wife Alison played hockey and softball for the Zimbabwe women’s team.

His daughter Mandy also played for the national schools’ hockey team.

The former PE alumnus was honoured for his efforts in the development of the sport in the country after the Zimbabwe Schoolboys Hockey Association decided to rename the annual shoolboys’ hockey tournament after Manolios – the Mark Manolios Inter- Zonal Festival.

Manolios was overwhelmed with emotions, nearly shedding tears while speaking about his recognition.

“That is an incredible achievement and honour, honours like that are only given to people after they are dead,” he said.

He also had a great sense of humour as demonstrated by his remarks when his maid interrupted our interview by offering us a cup of tea.

“How many teaspoons of sugar?” the maid asked after pouring the hot beverage.

“No sugar; I’m sweet enough,” Manolios sarcastically shot back with a smile on his face.

The last time I spoke with Manolios was over the phone back in October last year following the untimely death of former SRC board chairperson and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) honorary life president Alwyn Pichanick, 84.

An astute barrister with the country’s reputable law firm Wintertons, Pichanick served ZC as board president between 1976 and 1990.

He had earlier worked as the national selector between 1962 and 1975 when the then Rhodesia was an affiliate of the South African board playing in the Currie Cup.
He was also the first SRC board chairperson when it was constituted in 1991 and served in the same board with Manolios.

“He was a lovable and very capable cricket administrator known throughout the world. He was a legend, did great works and was also involved in the Zimbabwe Sports Council Enquiry on the recommendation of then ... president Robert Mugabe with Tommy Sithole his chairperson,” Manolios told the Daily News then.

“Always very soft spoken, I never saw Alwyn losing his temper; he was a legend and managed to keep his cool.”

I could also say the same of Manolios.

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