Hussein completes his marathon search for vindication with third Boston victory

Phil Jackman

April 21, 1992|By Phil Jackman

BOSTON -- Kenyans don't cry. They go home to the Great Rift Valley and the mountains of the east African nation and prepare better.

There's a tendency to think of them as automatons. They show up on the starting line, nod politely, then silently beat your brains out with their flying feet.

But, wait, there in plain view of at least 30,000 spectators, Ibrahim Hussein broke up. "I showed emotion I very rarely ever show," said the 33-year-old three-time conqueror of the fabled Boston Marathon course yesterday.

He spoke of pressure, after decimating a strong field and turning in his best time ever, 2:08:14. Kenyans seldom talk of pressure. They come, they do, they create no psychological barriers or make any more of running than that it is a simple exercise.

On this occasion, Hussein begged to differ. "I broke down afterward," he explained, "because I had pressure." It has been with him for a while.

Two years ago, after having won Boston in a mad -- to the wire with Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania in 1989, Hussein had had to pull out in mid-race with an Achilles' tendon problem. He was upset that after the race no one inquired about his problem or his well being.

Worse, at home, it was as if he had quit without good reason. So the back of his ankle and leg pained a little bit, so what?

Hussein won here last year in 2:11:06, but in his mind that did not rectify the situation. Despite two wins in Boston, one in New York and three at the Honolulu Marathon, Ibrahim theorized that "people do not recognize me as a [great] marathoner. Maybe now they will."

Probably. His time here is second only to the 2:07:51 Rob de Castella turned in under ideal conditions and against a strong field in 1986. Throughout much of yesterday's race, it was a bit warm (60 degrees), too humid (77 percent) and the pace bordered on the moronic.

That is, except for the Kenyans, a whole slew of which charged away from the start in Hopkinton as thought this was a 10-K race through the streets of Nairobi.

The race was serving as Kenya's Olympic Trials for this summer's Games in Barcelona and a man new to the distance, steeplechaser Simon Karori, took the lead. His mile splits were cyclonic: 23:07 at five, 46:54 at 10 and 1:02:41 at the half-marathon.

In the pack behind Karori was Hussein, four of his countrymen and Ikangaa, the tough-luck Tanzanian. But the eventual winner did not rue his teammate's questionable strategy.

He allowed that "Karori helped out by taking it out fast. My concern was that he was not taking water."

When Hussein, Ikangaa and Kenyan Boniface Merende finally caught Karori, first thing Ibrahim said to him was, "Drink some water. He looked at me and asked, 'I should drink?' I told him, 'Yes, you have to to finish.' "

There were other helpful tips he was passing along to the other runners in the lead pack, most of them men taking part in the marathon for the first time after years of middle-distance running.

"I was glad to see Ikangaa up there," said Hussein. "We have raced many times over the years. We have become fast friends."

Ikangaa, runner-up to his rival by one measly second three years ago, hung tough with the winner and Merende until near 20 miles. He dropped back as Hussein went to work on his inexperienced countryman. He played Mr. Nice Guy at first, offering to split the pace-setting for a couple of miles, but the steeplechaser declined. Hussein simply jammed it into overdrive.

Just about everyone save for Hussein paid the price. Ikangaa (2:11:44) was fourth and Merende (2:12:53) got sixth, but the rest of the Kenyans took a free fall.

There was no bitterness in Ibrahim Hussein's voice as he explained how he felt vindicated. "I did not take part in last year's world championships because I did not feel well," he said. "People did not know how serious my [tendon] injury was. If I had run when they wanted me to I would have been inviting further injury."

No sense doing that since he plans on running between 2:05 and 2:06 before he's through.

Besides serving as the Olympic Trials for Kenya, the race also helped to decide what Tanzanians and Finns will run in Spain come August. Then, a strong contingent of runners were on hand with the assignment of having to dip well under 2:10 if they wanted to be named to their country's team.

A woman from Great Britain named Anne Roden, 45 years old no less, finished 12th and was the first woman master in 2:37:37. "You want to know how they select our team?" she gasped. "On times run last year. Imagine that."

The women's race started out promisingly for defending champion Wanda Panfil of Poland and no one else. Coming off a five-marathon win streak and, on paper, nearly three minutes better than anyone in the field, Panfil hit the 16-mile mark in exactly the same time she did last year, 1:26:36.

It was all uphill after that, however. Her legs got heavy. She ran a 5:52 mile. They got heavier. She ran a 5:54 mile. A spritely young (23) Russian woman now living in Florida, Olga Markova, sprinted by.

Some remembered Markova from her victory in the Marine Corps Marathon in 1990 and a second place in New York last November. Joan Samuelson, doing commentary on local television, had no problem recalling Olga.

"The way she blew by me in New York, and I'm talking at about 18 miles, I knew she'd be heard from. I predict right now she'll win a medal in Barcelona," said the inaugural women's Olympic marathon winner.

Trouble is, like a lot of Russian athletes, Markova is conducting her own financial affairs these days and the boys back in the Commonwealth of Independent States aren't too happy being aced out of their cut. She may not even be named to the CIS team for the Summer Games.

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