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Crowned on Coronation Drive
Kenny Moore
October 18, 1982
Robert de Castella of Australia won a thrilling marathon in Brisbane
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October 18, 1982

Crowned On Coronation Drive

Robert de Castella of Australia won a thrilling marathon in Brisbane

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Ungainly or not, de Castella was coming. And as his pace quickened, he finally lifted these Commonwealth Games to a level that approached their splendid history. They had given us Bannister vs. Landy in 1954, Clarke vs. Keino in 1966, Walker vs. Bayi in 1974. But in Brisbane, missing such stars as Rono and Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett of England, the XII Games had begun to seem notable only for their curiosities. One was the 200 meters. Scotland's Allan Wells, the 1980 Olympic 100 champion, and England's Mike McFarlane finished in a dead heat at 20.43, inseparable by a finish photo accurate to one-thousandth of a second.

Another puzzle, turning to amazement, was how Steve Wray of the Bahamas, a junior at Southern Illinois who hadn't made the finals of the NCAA high jump, kept raising his personal best, from 7'3�" to 7'4�" to 7'5� to 7'7", despite painfully limping from the pit after each clearance. "Fallen arches and Strained ligaments," he said. "It's not helping." Finally, Wray and NCAA champion Milt Ottey of Canada and Tex-as-El Paso tried the world record of 7'8�" in the dying light. Only Wray came close. Ottey won on fewer misses. Texas-El Paso got its third gold of the Games when Jamaica's Bert Cameron won the 400 in 45.78, the time slowed by the strong wind that consistently killed the chance of records or helped so much that they were illegal. For example, Keith Connor of England and SMU would have had the second-longest triple jump ever with his leap of 58'5�" had the wind not been 10 mph, more than twice the allowable velocity.

Also illegal, under a disturbing Commonwealth Games Act rushed through the Queensland State Parliament in March, was anything the police said endangered the smooth running of the Games. In particular, the statute was aimed at discouraging demonstrations on behalf of the aborigines, who are seeking to gain land rights in Queensland. Civil rights were sharply curtailed. A few demonstrators with tickets made it into Queen Elizabeth II Stadium on the second day of the track events, but all were arrested when they tried to fly an aborigine flag. Convictions could bring $2,000 fines or as many as two years in jail.

A good deal of what passed for debate on the subject had an eerie, upside-down ring. Queensland is referred to as Australia's "Deep North," and much of the aboriginal discontent is attributed to "Southern Stirrers" from Melbourne and Sydney. The Queensland Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Ken Tomkins, blithely said that in his experience aborigines "sort of catch birds, goannas [lizards] and fish, and don't need very much money. I don't think they're advanced to the stage where you can give them freehold land because they wouldn't know what it was."

By the time Ikangaa reached the hills by Queensland University, he had rid himself of Shahanga. Ikangaa looked so good, waving at runners still on the outward journey, staring almost with disdain into the lens of the television camera on the truck preceding him, that he seemed capable of standing off any challenge.

With 2� miles remaining, Ikangaa, now on Coronation Drive, alerted by the crowd, turned to check his lead and looked into the chest of de Castella, only 10 yards behind. De Castella smiled. As he passed, he looked away from the smaller man, his face remorseless. But instead of dying, Ikangaa attacked. The usual racing reflex would be to shadow the leader to the final stretch, saving energy for a kick. "I passed him because I had to find out how strong he was," said Ikangaa. He found out. Twice Ikangaa sprinted ahead, only to have de Castella battle back even, and then regain the lead. Ultimately de Castella strode joyously to a 2:09:18 victory, 12 seconds ahead of Ikangaa. Behind them Shahanga had to walk and finished sixth in 2:14:25. Mike Gratton of England came through the field for third in 2:12:06.

"Next time will be even faster at the beginning," said Ikangaa. "When I trained, I wasn't used to sprinting the last two miles. I will correct that. You must not think I am disappointed to lose. If I were unhappy about that, I wouldn't be a good sportsman."

For de Castella, the win was confirmation that the careful training he has done for years with Clohessy has brought him to surpassing strength. He has never been injured—"most trees aren't," said a friend, Brian Lenton—and his pace judgment is uncanny, the halves of his race being 1:04:30 and 1:04:48. "I believe I can run under 2:07 eventually," said de Castella, not knowing that Salazar has an eye on such a time in next week's New York Marathon.

"I reckon it was the greatest marathon ever," said Ron Clarke, "allowing for the hills." These things are hard to know, but de Castella's performance was certainly good enough to give his camp an appetite for a race with Salazar. "I just wish they'd broadcast this to America," said de Castella's wife, Gayelene Clews, gesturing with a pink carnation. "Then they'd really be worried."

De Castella allowed that a fine occasion for a meeting with Salazar would be the world championships next August in Helsinki. But he spoke mildly, already saving his fierceness for the next time. For those last eight miles.

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