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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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Out of Africa, the finest runners come unannounced, astonishing in their sudden completeness. Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia led them, barefoot down the Appian Way, winning the gold medal in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Kip Keino and Henry Rono of Kenya, Filbert Bayi of Tanzania and Miruts Yifter of Ethiopia followed with their world records and Olympic medals. And last Friday morning, as the XII Commonwealth Games marathon began in the clear, still dawn in Brisbane, Australia, Lieutenant Juma Ikangaa of the Tanzanian army set out to join that illustrious East African brotherhood.

The 6 a.m. start was to spare the runners Brisbane's often severe sun, but the heat wouldn't have mattered to Ikangaa. In his first marathon, just seven weeks earlier, he had won the African championships in Cairo in 2:12:05 on a humid, 87� day. Now he led the Commonwealth field of 38 across the Victoria Bridge and through downtown Brisbane, where hundreds had risen early to cheer.

The pace was swift, 14:45 at 5,000 meters. (In his world-record run of 2:08:13 in New York City last year, Alberto Salazar averaged 15:12 for each 5,000.) By then, 25-year-old Robert de Castella of Australia, who has run history's second-fastest marathon (2:08:18), had dropped 24 seconds back. Ikangaa was accompanied only by his teammate, Gidamis Shahanga, 25, the defending champion, who already had won the 10,000. A junior at Texas-El Paso, Shahanga is long-legged, with a stride that resembles Salazar's in its low knee lift. Ikangaa, by contrast, is short (5'3", 119 pounds) and chesty, and has a free, exuberant running action. He seemed impatient, bolting ahead on the early hills, acknowledging the crowd. Shahanga was serene. He never duplicated Ikangaa's little bursts but always stayed near. It seemed the unknown Ikangaa was simply a pacemaker for Shahanga, especially because Ikangaa claimed he was only 18 years old.

The course was strewn with hills, and none of the runners thought the final time would be better than 2:10:30. None save Ikangaa. "All week I read in the paper on only Shahanga and de Castella," he said later. "But this isn't boxing. There are more than two in a race. I was running to show that, and to chase the world record."

De Castella was not. His aim was to win the race. He had expected the Tanzanians to go early, and his tactic was to ignore them, run evenly and charge the last six or eight miles. "It's dangerous to blast out too hard under the humid conditions we had," he would say. "I was sweating a hell of a lot." So de Castella drank from every aid station—the Tanzanians drank from none—and he thought about the hills to come. "I counted on 'em," he said.

De Castella is a lab technician at Australia's Institute of Sport in Canberra. He is known as being unflappable, and he and his coach, Pat Clohessy of Melbourne, had built his race plan around that trait in de Castella's character. "We talked about waiting and relaxing," said Clohessy. "The Tanzanians were magnificent up front. He knew he'd have to put in a terrific effort, but not yet."

After eight miles, near Brisbane's airport, the course turned back on itself. The two leaders saw that a pack consisting of de Castella, New Zealand's Kevin Ryan, Scotland's John Graham and Graham Laing, and Marios Kasianides of Cyprus had crept to within 30 yards. "That must have shocked them," said Ryan to de Castella as they watched Ikangaa and Shahanga surge away again.

At halfway the Tanzanians were 40 seconds ahead in 1:03:50 ( Salazar was 1:04:10 in his record run). By 30 km their lead was 58 seconds, "and daylight second," said Tim Lane, the Australian TV commentator. It was now clear that Ikangaa was no rabbit. He had Shahanga on the ropes. "The pace was so high," Shahanga would say. "It was the hardest race of my life." Ikangaa was still smooth and light, still accelerating into the hills.

With eight miles to go, de Castella left the pack and drove out on his own. In the next 5 km he gained 20 seconds. At that rate the race would end before he could catch up. "There was no panic," he said later. "It would have been easy to say I'll never make it, but I didn't give up hope. I tried not to feel anything, only to get a good tempo, one I could pound out."

De Castella suffered a sideache with five miles left. "But I gritted my teeth and ran through that," he said. At 5'11", 155 pounds, he's a stiff-backed runner with the most powerful thighs of any world-class marathoner. "And his arm action looks as if he's tearing jungle undergrowth out of his way," said David Miller of London's Daily Express.

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