Zane Branson who, among many other things was a runner, an athlete-manager, and a friend has died, aged 57, of a suspected heart attack in Iten, Kenya on Saturday, July 25.
To many people in the athletics business, ‘athlete-manager’ is a term of abuse, belonging in those nether regions infested by politicians, corporate bankers and second-hand car salesmen. But Zane elevated the term to a stratosphere few could aspire to. As a manager, he was solicitous to a fault.
I particularly recall an incident around 15 years ago. I arrived at a post-race party for the Belgrade Marathon, an event that we both worked on for many years. Questioning his absence, it turned out that one of the Kenyan runners had collapsed, and Zane had taken him to hospital. Despite assurances that all the runner needed was re-hydration, rest and a good night’s sleep, Zane stayed at his bedside all night. This was before Zane was a full-time manager, but he had helped recruit the runner, and felt responsible. That was typical Zane behaviour.
More recently, he told me about an ageing father of one of his Kenyan athletes, who had cycled around 100 kilometres (60 miles), to thank Zane personally for the help he had given to his son. That meant far more to Zane than ten per cent.
As long-time friend and business associate, Davor Savija wrote earlier today, “Zane was a man with a fine touch and attention to detail; and he was fully and completely devoted to athletes, and not only to the athletes he worked with. Athlete Management in East Africa was not only a business for Zane, it was a calling and a platform for a rich life, sacrifice and dreams”.
Zane was a private person; he rarely volunteered information about his life. But piecing together stray comments and info from other sources, it seems that Zane enjoyed several lives. Born in Ohio in 1957, I understand the family (ironically, long-lived) moved to West Virginia, where they still own a farm. As a late teenage runner, he took part in the relay from the White House to Montreal prior to the Olympic Games in 1976. I think he slept rough once he got there, but he was more impressed by hanging out at the training track, and watching the likes of John Walker and other luminaries going through their paces.
He attended East Tennessee State University, where he was a team mate of a largely Irish contingent of runners, headed by Ray Flynn. Ray wrote tonight, “Zane was passionate for running from the time I first met him at East Tennessee State University, where he was one of the top runners. He made friends wherever he went and will be sorely missed in the Athletics World”.
Zane’s major claim to (almost) running fame came in the Kay-Pro 10k in 1984. The computer company organised a national-wide State-based race for athletes who had never won a major competition. The male and female winners were due to receive an unprecedented $500,000 each. Zane won the Tennessee race, and (only the winners) went forward to the final in Las Vegas, where he was leading until the last kilometre when, as he told me recently, “I suddenly couldn’t breathe, it was the only time it ever happened to me”. He finished second, but it turned out that the half a million bucks to the winners was to be paid out at $10,000 per year for 50 years. The company went bust two years later; so Zane didn’t feel so bad at only picking up an early computer, which he sold for a thousand bucks.
Zane was a big fan of the blues, and was involved in music management for a long time, working on gigs with giants like Fats Domino and Van Morrison, James Brown and Chuck Berry, and guys I’d never heard of. When he came to live in Liverpool 30 years ago, through the auspices of Gerry Helme, second in the London Marathon in the early eighties, he helped organise gigs in Liverpool and Manchester, while also working in his degree subject, Health and Hospital Management.
He and Gerry started a minor athletics management company, and a chance meeting with them in 1992 resulted in me, then a full-time journalist, branching out into setting up a marathon media service. On the music front, when I had a BIG birthday, Zane arranged for the Rock ‘n’ Roll band (‘fraid so), who ushered in my second half-century.
I am writing this in a bar in Prague, a bar that Zane recommended to me a year ago, saying, “It’s got good music, not too loud, so you can hold a conversation; and there’s some nice folk go there”. Amen to that!
When I leave here, I’m going back to Zane’s flat. He has a base here because, despite being a long-time resident of Belgrade, the Czech Republic has the advantage of being in the Schengen area; and since his business, the International Athletics Consultancy has flourished, the location affords easier travel across Europe for his athletes, among whom the major names include Patrick Makau, Emily Chebet, Joyce Chepkirui and Wilson Chebet. Zane was also instrumental is setting up the RunCzech Running Team for Carlo Capalbo, race director of the Prague International Marathon.
When I told Zane a year ago that I was going to research a project on Emil Zátopek, he just gave me a set of keys to his flat, refusing, inevitably to accept any recompense.
He spent several days in Addis Ababa, talking with his Ethiopian athletes and other contacts, before going to Kenya around ten days ago. According to his partner Evgeniia, he experienced some chest pains in Addis, but they disappeared after two days, and he thought he might get a check-up in Kenya.
Business partner, Savija said, “Zane was walking from the police station towards Iten town. He was with our French-born, Kenya-based associate, Julien Di Maria (known by his pseudonym Kip Evans). They were due to meet with the Wilson Chebet group, and watch their 40k long run. As he walked with Julien, they were joking, brainstorming and planning. Suddenly, Zane turned towards Julien and collapsed. He was admitted to Iten District Hospital but he was not responsive, neither breathing, nor was there any pulse. Doctors did their best with limited resources”.
There are not too many people in the world like Zane Branson; and our poor little planet, situated somewhere on the hinterland of the vast expanse of the Milky Way is today a sadder place for his demise.
Zane Edward Branson was born on September 23, 1957, in Ohio, USA. He died on July 25, 2015, in Iten, Kenya.