A long run into history

Published Aug. 5, 1996|Updated Sept. 16, 2005

He will be remembered always, this little man named Josia Thugwane, a mine worker in East Transvaal, South Africa, who became the first black man from his country to win an Olympic gold medal.

Thugwane, 25 years old, the father of four daughters, 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 99 pounds, which makes him just a little taller and about the same weight as gymnast Shannon Miller, jogged into Olympic Stadium on Sunday morning with his elbows bobbing high, with his head making quick turns every couple of seconds, just to make sure that, yes, he still was ahead, on his way to the marathon title.

Toting a history that included oppression, poverty and, most recently, a carjacking that left him scarred by a bullet, Thugwane made a double dose of history: He also was part of the closest finish in an Olympic marathon, winning by just 3 seconds.

Thugwane, not even ranked among the world's top 150 marathoners in 1995, opened up a little room between himself and eventual silver medalist Lee Bong-ju of South Korea and bronze medalist Eric Wainaina of Kenya with about a mile of the 26.2-mile race left. He won in 2 hours, 12 minutes, 36 seconds to Lee's 2:12:39. Wainaina finished in 2:12:44 to take the bronze for Kenya's first Olympic marathon medal.

"I feel very good for winning the medal," Thugwane said in the language of his Ndebele tribe. "I've won the medal for my country and for my president."

The marathon was run at a slow pace. Thugwane's time was well off the world record of 2:06.50 or the Olympic record of 2:09.21.

Three Americans competed, and all were well off the pace. Florida graduate Keith Brantly, Bob Kempainen and Mark Coogan each were in the lead pack through the midway point, but each fell away when the pace picked up.

Brantly was tops among U.S. finishers, taking 28th in 2:18:17; Kempainen was 31st in 2:18:38 and Coogan finished 41st in 2:20:27.

Abdul Baser-Wasiqi of Afghanistan could not stay with the pack, but he was not just another runner. Baser-Wasiqi, at times walking because of an injured left leg, was the dramatic last finisher, in 4:24:17 _ the slowest ever.

Plans had been made to send Baser-Wasiqi to a nearby practice track. Meanwhile, ACOG officials were trying to figure out how to bring him his bag, which sat alone on a bench near the media zone.

Then a funny thing happened. Prodded by volunteers _ and, perhaps, the live TV coverage _ officials scrapped the rerouting plans and pulled the tarp off the track. Officials and volunteers lined the infield and applauded the Afghani runner as he made his way through his last lap.