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Kenny Moore
September 12, 1988
Born in Kenya, nurtured in Japan, Douglas Wakiihuri is an Olympic marathon favorite
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September 12, 1988

A Man Of Two Worlds

Born in Kenya, nurtured in Japan, Douglas Wakiihuri is an Olympic marathon favorite

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At first, Wakiihuri roomed with Murao, who speaks English, but Nakamura separated them after 2½ months, to make it harder on the Kenyan apprentice. "It had to be done," says Wakiihuri, accepting.

Nakamura had Wakiihuri visit Shinto and Buddhist shrines. "I can't say I'm a religious person," says Wakiihuri, "but to understand the Japanese tradition, you must do what has been done for all the years."

Just so, the intense young runner submitted to all Nakamura asked. "I did not understand all the bowing and thanking before running or eating. But I did it. And gradually I saw that by respecting Mr. Nakamura, we respect running, we show the right seriousness."

His restraint now exceeds that of the Japanese. When Wakiihuri ran last winter in the corporate relays, he carried the red S & B sash with obvious power and an aspect of serenity. The effort is surely as hard for him as for the others, but he cares to show it less. "If a guy is exhausted, fine," he says. "But if he's able to run a good leg and then collapses for the TV cameras, it's not really honorable."

When Wakiihuri came solemnly into his fold, Nakamura was plotting the future of all his, runners according to a grand plan. They would reach their peaks at the Seoul Olympics, and he would return with them to his birthplace and preside over their victories. Then the cycle would be completed, and he would retire. Training twice a day, 120 miles per week, Wakiihuri improved steadily in road and track races, though never threatening teammate Seko, seven years his senior, who won marathons in Fukuoka (four), Boston (two), Tokyo, Chicago and London.

Seko's one bad race came in the Los Angeles Games, when he faded late and finished 14th behind Portugal's Carlos Lopes. Seko competed knowing that Nakamura had been diagnosed as having stomach cancer and had asked his doctors to postpone surgery until after the Olympics. "After the Games he had a third of his stomach removed," says Murao. "He knew he was going to die in the near future."

The doctors gave him two or three years. Nakamura was disgusted. "He felt it better to die in 1985, not in 1988," says Murao. "He said that many times." Athletes in mourning would not be able to give their best in Seoul.

In May 1985, Nakamura went to Shiozawa, near the mountains, to go trout fishing. "He tied his own flies," says Murao. "Fishing was his only pleasure. He could be alone, to think, in natural life."

His first day on the cold water of Shiozawa, Nakamura caught 10 trout. The next day his boat was found overturned on the riverbank. Nakamura lay nearby, where he had drowned.

While not calling it suicide, the Nakamura runners understood this to be what one of them has termed "a happy death."

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