Which will outlast the other? All things being cool and equal, Seko. He has been the most consistently excellent marathoner of our time. But it takes a heat runner to win an Olympic marathon. Since the Melbourne Games in 1956 the winners of the marathon—Alain Mimoun, Abebe Bikila (1960 and '64), Mamo Wolde, Frank Shorter, Waldemar Cierpinski (1976 and '80) and Lopes—have all been splendid in the heat. Wakiihuri's Rome victory shows him to be superior in just such conditions, as is his countryman Ibrahim Hussein, the winner of last year's New York City marathon.
Also, if pressure kills, it kills Japanese. One result of the homogeneity of Japanese popular culture is that if someone strikes a few imaginations, he strikes everybody's imagination, and so is lionized until he is crushed. "The pressure is all on Seko," says Murao.
So bet on Wakiihuri, the foreigner, the man whose win would even disconcert the nationalistic spirit of his coach. "I know he is likely to develop to the point where he can beat all the Japanese," Nakamura once wrote of Wakiihuri. "I'll be delighted, but at the same time, it will be hard to take."
That ambivalence seems at the core of what Wakiihuri has taken on. Whether he wins in Seoul or not, his heart finds itself of two cultures, and of neither.
Each of his countries is shot through with stereotypes about the other. "Back home people think every Japanese boy can make you a wristwatch, or a TV set," Wakiihuri says. And a couple of years ago, when the film The Gods Must Be Crazy [retitled Bushman for Japanese audiences] played in Tokyo, people ran after Wakiihuri saying, "Bushman, Bushman."
Wakiihuri doesn't know where he will finally live, in the country of his birth or of his way. "I have to finish what I am doing now—getting stronger—before I decide."
He thinks, and even dreams now, in Japanese. But he knows he has been drawn for his running's sake into a society tremendously unwilling to accept him. Reminders of this abound, even in the way the Japanese cannot generally think of him as a permanent resident. "When are you going home?" he is asked. "And they look so surprised if I say, I am home.' I try to be a person of where I am at the time. If I try to be Kenyan here in Japan, I cannot. So I'll continue to be of two ways."
Always a foreigner.
"Yes, to those who are not my friends."