Zola Budd was born on 26 May 1966 in Bloemfontein, Free State, South Africa. Budd burst into national prominence in 1983. In 1984 she gained international recognition when, at the age of 17, she broke the women's 5000m world record. As this performance took place in apartheid South Africa, the world track and field establishment refused to recognise the record. However, she was later to claim the world record officially, while representing Great Britain in 1985, clocking 14:48.07.
Despite being a world class athlete she could not compete in the 1984 Olympic games as South Africa had been banned from competing before the start of the Tokyo Olympic games in 1964. In 1984, Budd was granted a British passport and participated in the British team in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in that year. In the final of the 3,000m race, Budd and Mary Decker, the American favourite to win, accidentally collided. Budd eventually finished seventh, while Decker was carried from the track side. Although the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) jury found that Budd was not responsible for the collision, she was booed by the crowd who favoured Decker.
In a low key event in Crystal Palace, England, Budd on 26 August 1985 broke the 5 000m world record set by Ingrid Kristiansens of Norway sixteen years previously by more than ten seconds to set a new mark of 15 minutes 1.83 seconds. Budd stunned the sporting fraternity by running bare footed on her way to claim this magnificent feat. As South Africa was banned from competing in any sporting code with other countries, the event took place without publicity that might have attracted anti-apartheid demonstrators.
Budd returned to South Africa after she was banned by the IAAF in 1988 because she allegedly took part in an event in this country, though she insisted that she only attended the event and did not run. She retired from international competition for several years, but began racing again in South Africa and had an excellent season in 1991, when she was the second fastest woman in the world over 3,000m.
Budd is married to Mike Pieterse, a South African businessman and has three children. She still runs 16 – 24 km a day.