Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The 1984 Olympic Games Marathon Gold For Black Africa

Anis Haffar

Anis Haffar, our correspondent in Los Angeles, assesses the gold winning chances of African participants in the forth-coming big international sporting event in which he concludes Africans are poised for a few surprises.
A major athletic event to herald the Olympics this year took place in Los Angeles in February. Some of the world's best marathoners ran a pretty race covering some 26 miles along the same route designated for the summer from Santa Monica college winding along the blue Pacific ocean through the historic Culver City, along the Exposition boulevard and ending at the Coliseum.

When the international qualifying race was over. Tanzania's Gidamis Shahanga emerged through the tunnel of the Coliseum ahead of all the other runners winning in 2:10:19. With this victory, the Tanzanian sent a message to the world's marathon elite that when the games start in mid-August only those with the stamina to survive the grist will carry the medals. Joseph Nzau of Kenya finished second appear- ing 21 seconds later. Of the top seven, three were Africans.

Shahanga led through the first three miles. To those who had seen him run the New York marathon, it was simply a flashback. There, he was leading through the halfway point in one hour and three minutes, a full minute ahead of the world record pace. The chiling rain came, however, and he finished behind others.

In Los Angeles, the thermometer and the friendly ocean breezes seemed to work for him. About two miles to the finish, Shahanga rushed in effortlessly, seemingly bored with his first place, and continually checking his wristwatch. Meanwhile, his colleagues spat and sputtered, gnashing behind him. It was quite clear that Shahanga could have run much faster had there been some serious challengers.

When the real showdown comes, there will be some really serious chall- engers: Toshihiko Seko, Rob de Cast- ella and Salazar. "It's going to be hot in the summer," Shahanga acknowledged. Still he has his eyes on one of both of two things: a record or the dhahabu (Swahili for the Olympic gold). Having learned the virtues of poise, humility and patience in his youth, Shahanga could get his wish.


January 1983: Ethiopian Hailu Ebba ran 2:12:17 to win the Houston-Tenneco marathon.

February 1983: Toshihiko Seko ran 2:08:38 (the 4th fastest time in history) winning the Tokyo marathon. Another Japanese Takeshi Soh came second with 2:08:55 (the 6th fastest in the world).

April 1983: In Rotterdam, Rob de Castella maintained his spot in 2:08:37 and won a tough field assembled. Carlos Lopes set a European record and moved 6th on the all time list with 2:08:39.

Alberto Salazar fared 2:10:08 in the race.

May 1983: Tanzanian Gidamis Shahanga defeated a quality field in a 12-K race in Portland, Oregon. Rodolfo Gomez (Mexico), Joseph Nzau and Garbriel Kamu (both from Kenya) followed.

October 1983: Joseph Nzau won America's marathon in Chicago edging Hugh Jones of England. February 1984: Gidamis Shahanga won the Los Angeles international marathon, followed by Joseph Nzau, and Gerald Nijboer of the Netherlands.


Despite severe politico/economic differences, Ethiopia and Kenya do share a major genetic trait: they produce some of the world's greatest athletes the likes of Abebe Bikila, Kip Keino and the rest. Ethiopia is a land of mountains, plateaus and valleys, extending inland from the Red Sea coast and sharing a frontier with Somali near the Horn of Africa. Kenya lies immediately to the south.

Many childhood activities and games involve a great deal of running, or even long walks to school and back. It is while serving in the army that most Ethiopians were introduced to compet itive running. Starting with Wami Biratu, Ethiopia's first Olympian in 1956, the forces have served as the source for the money and discipline required to build the nation's best athletes. Abebe Bikila also carved a Amos Biwott (Kenya) 1968 1,500 Metres name for himself when in 1960 he stunned the world by winning the Olympic marathon.

Still others include Mamo Wolde, the 1968 Olympic marathon champion; Mohammed Kedir, the 10,000 meter bronze medallist at Moscow; Kebede Balcha, the international cross-country champion; and the two-time Olympic champion Miruts Yifter who scored double victories in world cut 1 and 2. Some have also won three consecutive international cross-country titles.

The Olympic contingent was groomed in a mountainous hideout for the 1984 games. When they arrive in Los Angeles in the green, red and yellow stripes with the Lion of Juda emblem, there will seem no end for Ethiopian athletic victories.


The equator crosses this country but average temperatures are mild with cool nights. In the day, temperatures are not much warmer than 80. The Rift Valley, 200 miles from Nairobi has served as the major training ground for most Kenyan athletes. As in Ethiopia, the playful activities of children play a major role in future sports. Teh Kisii and Kalenjin, for example, walk great distances to school, market or simply tending their herd.

Kenyan athletes have made great strides. Michael Musyoki is the world record holder at 15 kilometers. Other champions include the famous Kip Keino who snatched the Olympic rec ord in 1500 at 13:20.34. Henry Rono is the current world record holder at 3000 and 10,000 metres, and only last year gave up his long standing record in 5,000 metres. Ben Jipcho, Mike Boit and Samson Kimobwa have all held world records at one time or other.

The Kenyans intend to snatch records and gold in athletics and relays come the summer XXIIIrd Olympiad.


The inaugural women's hockey competition resulted in Zimbabwe winning a gold medal on its debut in the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980.

Miruts Yifter (Ethiopia) 1980 10,000 Metres
Kipchoge Keino (Kenya) 1972 3.000 Steeplechase
Kiphoge Keino (Kenya) 1968 1,500 Metres
Mano Wolde (Ethiopia) 1968 Marathon
Abebe Bikila (Ethiopia) 1960/64 Marathon

Olympic Games Gold 1980- Ethiopia (2) Zimbabwe (1) Tanzania (2) Uganda (1).

Greek mythical fantasy, pomp and profit

The population of the Olympia village in Greece is a mere 700. But this small town boasted of sacred altars to the gods and goddesses - Zeus, Hera, Thor and Mars. It may not be an easy task to put the deities' respective provinces in focus, but even in our days the offering of a consecrated flame to the goddess of Hestia is observed religiously, and only during the Olympics.

Mythical history has it that originally a procession of vestal virgins (if and when identified) proceeded to the altar of Zeus where the high priestess Hera used a concave mirror to kindle the flame, reflecting from the sun.

The games became formalized as early as 776 B.C. and continued until 394 A.D. Some historians dispute that it was not the Roman emperor Theodosius who decreed the games no longer be held. Nevertheless, the Olympics ceased for a long while and only revived at the 1896 games in Athens, Greece.

The lighting of the Olympic torch started once again at Amsterdam in 1928. Four years later, Los Angeles also experienced its first Olympiad. In 1936, Hitler's fascist million. Germany went a step further. The torch was lit in Olympia and physically carried northwards across the European continent to Berlin.

During 1976 in Montreal, Canada, a flare of scientific showmanship was applied. The flame's heat was coded by a sensor and transmitted to Ottawa to ignite the waiting torch.

In Los Angeles this year, the Olympic organizers plan to preserve the celebrated flame in a miner's lantern and transport it from Athens to New York. Then, through a series of lamps pass the flame westwards across the American continent, all along being carried by a team of long distance runners. The 1,000 or so cities that are expected to participate will keep the torches as souvenirs once the flame was relayed on.

As far as sounds and spectacle, a special 100 piece orchestra has been assembled for the games. Additionally, an 800 piece marching band, and a choir consisting of 1,000 singers will provide entertainment for residents and visitors alike. For sure, this isn't going to be just another track meet.

Preparations for the Olympic pomp have not been without their costs. Happily however, it appears that for the first time since 1948 in London, the games will wind up in the black ink. In December 83, the Los Angeles committee projected cash revenues for the games of $513.2 million and expenditures of $497.7 million, leaving a surplus of $15.5

Cash projections have been consistent since the original budget figures were made in September 1979. But a boycott by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc nations could have a negative impact to the tune of more than $280 million in television rights. Luckily, such a political shunning seemed remote.

talking drums 1984-03-26 the march against Rawlings nigeria's short-lived honeymoon