Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Cameroon Mountain Race 1986...

Reversing The Trend

By Dan Dzide

By 7.00am Sunday, January 6th 1986, the placid, hilly Provincial Capital of Buea was already packed to overflowing with tens of thousands of spectators, athletes, foreign dignitaries and swarms of colourfully-clad traditional dancers. The mood in the tin- fenced stadium could be anything from the frivolous spirit of a Brazilian Carnival to the sober, engaging tone of an Olympic field. In the end, the eleventh edition of the Guinness-sponsored Cameroon Mountain Race lived up to its expectations and challenges as a world sporting event, perhaps unequalled in the Central African sub-region.

A yearly event sponsored by Guinness, the race attracts both foreign and local long-distance runners of varying class and experience. This year a total of about 276 competitors took part including 12 expatriates from Australia, England, America, Switzerland, Gabon, Sweden, Nigeria, France and Trindidad and Tobago. Ranghell Moses, a hero in the Guinness International Marathon in Trinidad also took part.

Mr LEKUNZE LEKU TIMOTHY, a diminutive, hard-running Cameroonian student roared down the harsh mountain tracks to clinch the all-time descent record. His time was 3 hours 47 minutes 57 seconds. He was thus the first Cameroonian in two years to break the monopoly of European competitors. Winning a race like this demands more than sheer bravado and determination.

Indeed a good knowledge of the rugged terrain supported by a cup-full of prayers go into making a victory possible. The hero was closely followed by the Englishman Mike Short, winner in 1984 and 1985. Even though he had lost the championship this year, he had actually succeeded in reducing an extra minute from his 1985 record of 3 hours 55 minutes, 6 seconds.

The mountain race itself is a gruelling, spectacular event which entails running up and down the rough and hostile edges of Mount Fako, the highest mountain in West and Central Africa. The 4099 metres high landmass offers its own excitement and surprises. The 27 kilometres death-track cuts across three different vegetations ranging from luxuriant grassland through thick tropical rain forest to stony desert landscape.

After the initial enthusiasm surrounding the first ten winners petered out, attention was intensely focused on the first female participant to finish. She was no other than the veteran three times female champion, MOJOKA NGONIA EMELIA, a mother of five. She finished in 6 hours 25 minutes, a far departure from previous records in 1983 and 1985.

When the tension and dust finally settled down, the first ten winners were awarded various cash prizes, trophies and medals. The winner this year received a trophy and 500,000 FRS CFA cash prize (about 1366 US$). This year's first prize was further blessed with a free British Caledonian Airways ticket to the next Guinness Marathon race in Trinidad and Tobago, scheduled for April.

Mike Short, the 37-year-old aeronautic engineer who was beaten to the second place, had 350,000 FRS CFA. He also got a prize for the fastest ascent. The third runner-up, ESUKA REGINALD received 200,000 FRS CFA. The Cameroonian Sports Authorities also presented various consolation prizes to the minor laureats.

The Guinness Authorities have described the race as "One of the leading and most famous in the world". Maybe that assess- ment is correct but there is definitely more room for improvement. Perhaps when the purse paid to the winners goes up more professional runners of international repute would participate. Until then, it is a race still pushing hard to catch the eye of the world's best marathon runners.

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