SI Vault
Merrell Noden
November 13, 1989
Outrunning a cosmopolitan crowd, Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania won the New York City Marathon
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November 13, 1989

Beyond The Melting Pot

Outrunning a cosmopolitan crowd, Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania won the New York City Marathon

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Ikangaa could take no chances. "I had to get away from those guys," he said. His tactics were dictated by bitter experience. Marathoners have nightmares about sprint finishes, and no one knows their horror better than Ikangaa, who has finished second in three of his last four races by a total of 60 seconds. "You can always correct yourself," said Ikangaa. "The mistake I've been making is not to distribute my strength over the whole course."

To rectify that, Ikangaa, a major in the Tanzanian army, spent the three weeks before the New York race training in, as he put it, "the place known as Alamosa [ Colo.]." Though he trimmed his weekly mileage in Alamosa to a mere 100 miles, Ikangaa often runs twice that amount—yes, 200 miles—in the hills around the town of Arusha, near Tanzania's northern border with Kenya, where he works as an instructor, specializing in heavy field artillery.

Until Sunday, Ikangaa claimed, he had never looked behind him in a race. But as he ran the noisy gantlet on First Avenue, he checked over his shoulder again and again. He saw no one coming.

Still, he did not let up. He seemed to flow up and over the final hills in Central Park. Pumping his arms like a sprinter, he hit the tape in 2:08:01, 12 seconds under Salazar's controversial mark.

Moments after crossing the finish, Ikangaa executed four high squat leaps in a display of joy. "It was the greatest race I've run," he said. "It was a personal record, a course record, and I am the second African to win this race."

The first was Ibrahim Hussein, in 1987. Though Hussein is Kenyan, Ikangaa proudly points out that they do have something in common. They, and Densimo, who aggravated a sore ankle and faded to ninth, grew up in the Great Rift Valley, cradle to a disproportionate number of the world's best distance runners. From the time he entered first grade. Ikangaa had to run 4� miles to school every day, and 4� miles home. "It is very different from a developed country," Ikangaa said. "In a developed country, whenever a child leaves school, there is always a bus or car or subway waiting to take him home. We did not have that."

The battle behind Ikangaa was stirring. Bordin, who won his Olympic gold with a strong run over the final miles, also came on strong at the end in New York. But despite a rousing charge up the final, quarter-mile hill, Bordin fell two seconds short of overtaking Martin, who finished second in 2:09:38. That may well be the start of a nice comeback both for Martin—whose personal best of 2:11:24 had stood since 1984—and for U.S. marathoning. Said Martin, "What they are all going to say is, If Martin can do it, I can do it."

Ikangaa has a sense of duty that befits a soldier. He is anxious to get home to repay his debt to the Tanzanian army, which, he says, has generously allowed him time to train in the mornings. He takes with him a winner's purse of $26,385, a $10,000 bonus for setting a course record, and a Mercedes. And there, too, Ikangaa sees where duty lies. "I want this car to be used by my mother," he says, "because she was a bit angry the last two years when I did not succeed in winning one. I will say, 'Mom, I have a very good prize for you. Here is the Mercedes-Benz I won.' "

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