"WA" at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

                               of TRACK & FIELD

 

    Tokyo (“To-kee’yo, Japan,” Al Green pronounces it, responding warmly

to his audience at a Concert there) is like a semi-tropical plant that's sustained in modernity through careful attentions.

    Spread over more than 800 square kilometers, serving more than 11 million inhabitants, Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is made up of somehow nurturing contrasts.

    Giant cranes hoist steel beams for more skyscrapers--while broom-wielding men in orange uniforms and ducklike boots sweep leaves off the streets below these stalking cranes. Neon of corporate logos rears above Roppongi nightlife--while shops that sell seaweed are nestled like bouguets along bicycle-walks between boulevard-broad Doris.    

    For all its contrasts, Tokyo works. This city works most fundamentally, I’ve come to think after a few days here, because modern Japanese maintain attitudes of "Wa", the Shinto-bred belief, accepted to mollify centuries of ultimately disastrous and petrifying warfare,  that society needs harmony. 

    Harmony in Japan includes secret relationships galore. Underworld Yakuza and madames in houses-of-pleasure with Bankers and Diet-members is one story that plays in the News of August 1991. Work-day to work-day, however, crowds flow and clock hours with an untroubled march. There can be, of course, 180-degree turns in such discipline. There can be explosive parades and willful, conscious, happy nonsense. Permeating everything, perhaps--source, perhaps, of pride, resentment and shame--is the abiding modern memory that Japan alone of Nations has suffered and then more than survived holocausts from nuclear weaponry.  

   In August of 1991 Tokyo, the “To-kee’yo” that warmly embraces Soul such as Al Green's, is host to the third edition of the International Amateur Athletic Federation’s World Championships of Track & Field. 

   The 1983 and 1987 World Championships are often cited as the greatest Track-and-Field meets ever. The 1991 Championships promise to be superlative as well. 

   These Championships  should fit Japan. They should let Japanese ahoqw their marriage of ritual and technology and their appreciation of performances that are both artful and courageous.

 

                                                      30

 

    We journalists are ready. We watch from Media perches in the National Stadium. We have prime seats, rows of aeries with private headsets and screens, in this revered site that was scene for the most dynamic, engaging and breakthrough of Summer Olympics of the 20th Century, Tokyo 1964.

High-definition TVs by our arm-rests affords us 10 channels of individual coverage of Events.

   Cicadas whir in trees that surround the Stadium as the Championships’ flame trembles in its basin.

 

 

                                          MEN'S 10,000 METERS,

               MONDAY, AUGUST 25, 1991  START 20:10, 26• CELSIUS

 

    The two Kenyan runners smile broadly after their win. 

    They, Moses Tanui and Richard Chelimo, have just finished 1st and 2nd in the 10,000 Meters Final this sultry Monday night. They sit with Mike Kosgei, Kenya's Coach for distance-running, behind microphones that are set along the platformed table of Media's Interview Room. They and we attending journalists are enclosed within four flat walls of this utilitarian Room that’s ground-level underneath spectators' seats in the Stadium. 

    Beside his rivals Khalid Skah of Morocco, 3rd Place, broods with his brows knit. Skah, who won the 1990 and 1991 World Cross-Country Championships with his devastating kick, has had his plans frustrated

tonight by the Kenyan team's wildly taxing changes of pace.

    "Three against one, it is not quite fair," Khalid Skah says.     

    Coach Mike Kosgei explains Kenya’s team-tactics. Richard Chelimo, only 19 and the 1991 world-leader at 10,000 meters with a 27:11.18 on June 23, was told to set a withering early tempo. Chelimo, his round face still cherubic, says: "My job was to go fast to block Skah." In laps varying from 61 to 67 seconds, the 19-year-old reached 3,000 meters in 8:01.79. 

    "If Skah follows, the World Record would fall," Kosgei says. "If he stays back, we would have a more controlled race. We have run against Skah in the Cross-Country Championships, and twice he has won in the end. We know that he can sprint well. We did not want to make it easy for him." 

                                                   31

 

 

   By the 8th lap Chelimo was some 40 meters ahead of Moses Tanui and some 60 meters ahead of Skah, Italian Salvatore Antibo, Englishman Richard Nerurkar and the Final's third Kenyan, Thomas Osano. As Tanui steadily advanced up the track on Chelimo (who passed 5000 meters in 13:30), Osano kept the trailing trio at least 8 seconds behind. 

    "Every time he was in front of me, he slowed down," Khalid Skah says. "It was very hard, because in the end I had to do all the work alone."

   With 1200 meters to run Skah scooted past Osano. Starting the final lap 50 meters behind Tanui and Chelimo, he accelerated his low stride. Khalid Skah then looked like a rocket-sled intent on storming citadels. He made up all but 15 meters on the leading pair, his time 27:41.74 against Tanui’s 27:38.74 and Chelimo’s 27:39.41. 

    “But it was not enough to win,” Khalid Skah says.

 

 

                                 WOMEN'S 10,000 METERS, 

                           FRIDAY, AUGUST 30, 19:00, 27•  C.

                                   

    In Scotland Liz McColgan is known as "very tough-minded." Journalists from Great Britain say: "Liz is hard. Liz McColgan has got a strong will."

    Liz McColgan led from the start of the Final of the Women's 10,000 Meters on Friday evening.

   The ablest field since Seoul's 1988 Olympics--World-Record holder Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway and World Cross-Country Champion Lynn Jennings of the U. S. among them--filed behind the foward-tilting Scotswoman and her bobbing top-knot. Steamy heat again formed undulant waves in the air. Literally electric humidity boded the typhoon forecast for the next morning.

   The lead women’s first lap was 71 seconds. 1600 meters passed in 4:54. McColgan pulled fellow British team-member Jill Hunter and two Ethiopans with her. Beyond the 3,000 meters-split of 9:16.96 only 19-year-old Derartu Tulu remained close.

    The Event's question became whether Derartu Tulu could endure Liz McColgan's pressure. With 2500 meters to race McColgan

surged, physically bending to her task, posture angled over her long 

 

                                                      32

 

 

legs. Tulu quickly fell a gap behind and then found her effort overtaken. Liz McColgan finished 21 seconds ahead of her nearest pursuers, the steady Chinese, Huandi Zhong and Xiuting Wang.

    The tableau in athletes' and journalists' ground-level Interview Room is one of Queen and would-be Court.  McColgan regards the reporters who are pressed before and beneath the platform where she sits with regal impatience. Back home in Britain tabloids in fact have betstowed on her the title ‘Queen Liz.’ 

    "I moved by feel," the athlete answers about her surge away from Derartu Tulu. "I knew my fitness was very good, and I was willing to test anyone, " she says. 

    Another writer from England asks "Liz": Does she feel it had been "wise" to begin training so soon (ten days) after the birth of her first child (daughter Eilish) last November?

    Liz McColgan looks at her fingernails.  "No," she says. "As I've said, I don't feel any different. It has just made me more determined to prove that I'm the best."

 

 

                                    WOMEN'S 1500 METERS, 

                        SATURDAY, AUGUST 30, 19:00, 29•  C.

                                  

    "Yah! YAH! Yah-Yah--YAHHH!"

    Thus--with exultant passion--with shouts from gut to sky--shouts that might arouse all worshippers with a Mosque--22-year-old Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria--celebrates her joy just past Finish-line of the Women's 1500 Meters Final. 

    Hassiba Boulmerka has come a long way.

    Five years ago the teen-ager was one of  "about fourteen" women athletes in all of Algeria, she’s said. Inspired by Nawai El Moutawakil of the neighboring nation of Morocco (the 1984 Olympic gold-medalist at 400-meters hurdles) the fourteen or so Algerian aspirants had to disobey Islamic prohibitions that women must maintain in open, outdoor society their veiling yashmaks. The athletes  were especially criticized for running bare-legged.

    Hassiba Boulmerka stayed with her dream. She failed to advance from Heats in both the 800 and 1500 Meters in Seoul's 1988 Olympics, but repeated as African champion in those distances the following year. In 1990 she ranked 11th at 1500 Meters. This year 

she's broken through, with wins in her Event at two Grand Prix Meets in Europe, before coming to Tokyo.

 

                                                    33

    The Women’s 1500 Meters Final on Saturday evening is run in a post-monsoon swelter. 66-second laps are led by Susan Sirma of Kenya. At the bell Sirma fronts Boulmerka, tall Olympic 800-meters champion Doina Melinte of Romania, powerful Tatyana Dorovskikh of Russia (a double Gold-medalist in Seoul’s 1988 Olympics), and PattiSue Plumer of the U. S.

    Hassiba Boulmerka bolts into 1st at the end of the closing backstretch. She then flies as if shot from a spring into the finishing curve. Her arms pump like a lever-driven locomotive's. Down the home straight Dorovskikh chases the Algerian with a great lift. Boulmerka, however, maintains her form.

    Across the Finish-line she throws up her arms.

    "Yah! YAH! Yah-Yah--YAHHH!" 

    Asked later if she'd shouted anything specific, Hassiba Boulmerka replies: "No. It was a cry of joy and release." 

 

 

                                       MEN'S 1500 METERS,

                          SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 15:40 31•  C.

 

   Training-partners of Noureddine Morcelli's in Riverside, California, where he went to Junior College, say that he could race at 400 meters internationally. He's run 46 in practice, they say. "It's scary how fast he is," they say.  

    Not since Herb Elliot in 1958-60, Peter Snell in 1964, and Jim Ryun in 1966-67 has any one runner been so dominant at the 1500 Meters/Mile distances as Morcelli is now. Other great record-setters of the past thirty years (Bayi and Walker, Coe and Ovett, Cram and Aouita) have all had close rivals.  

    This year, however, Said Aouita of Morocco, holder of the World Record at 3:29:46 and the greatest 1500-5000 Meters-runner of the 1980s, has come back after an operation to repair one of his hamstrings. The 32-year-old, fervently fierce as a competitor, poses a challenge to Morcelli. Aouita ran 3:33 in early August, a time with striking distance of his and Morcelli's best.

 

                                                       34

 

    Pace in the Final is reasonable. Kenyan paratrooper David Kibet leads through 400 in 58.02, his 800 meters 1:58.43. Aouita stays close in lane 2. With a lap to go Morcelli surges into the lead.

    The male Algerian’s stride is long, low and quick. His further pick-up is instantaneous as a whippet’s. He speeds through the final 400 in 51.55, 2 full seconds ahead of fellow 22-year-old Wilfred Kirochi of Kenya.  

    Morcelli combines the ability to sprint with the fitness and form to set a withering pace. His mix is the new model for his event.

 

 

                                          MEN'S MARATHON, 

                      SUNDAY, SEPT. 1, 6:00 START, 26-30• C.

 

    Stlll emitting a glisten of sweat one hour after his short strides carried him to decisive victory, Hiromi Taniguchi explains to journalists in our shared Interview Room that he'd become a distance-runner in order to drink free orange juice. 

    The Japanese marathoner answers our questions substanially into the 9:00-o'clock hour that Sunday morning. He replies with careful politeness and mind-boggling detail. His translators occupy even more minutes with their recounting of the athlete's exact, elaborate responses.  

    Question for Mr. Taniguichi: Can he please us what inspired him to become a distance-runner? 

    Nodding with diligent attention, the 31-year-old answers. A tale

in Japanese unfolds. Taniguchi marks his frequent points of importance with nods. Perhaps 10 minutes--more than five, certainly--as the Silver and Bronze finishers, Ahmed Saleh of Djibouti and Steve Spence of the United States, observe and wait.

    Translator: "Mr. Taniguchi says: When he was a boy in school he watched the Fukuoka Marathon. He knew that this was a very famous Marathon in Japan. It happens every December. He says: I saw that all the runners were able to drink from cups when they ran on the Fukuoka course. They could drink water or drink orange juice. He thought that having this refreshment must be very pleasant ... So that now, every day, thanks to his team and his coaches, Mr. Taniguchi is able to drink the delicious orange. He is very glad for his teammates and coaches and his Company's support. He is able, thanks to this support, to train at such a level that today's result was possible." 

    Taniguchi nods once more to affirm his statements and adds a quick, closing smile.

    Beside today's winner, Ahmed Saleh appears struck with wonder

as Taniguchi's answers and their translations proceed. The north African at age 34 is a champion and veteran. He's won the World Marathon Championships twice and medaled in the Olympic Games since 1985. His cheekbones and limbs are sharply angular as sun-browned bones. He stares ahead, waiting, as if something as fantastical and inexplicable as a Roc were stuck before his. Steve Spence, 3rd-Place, the Men's Marathon's  great surprise, sips again from a glass of water. 

 

                                                   35

 

    The race this morning showed tremendous courage and tactical sense among the competitors.

    As dawn lifted into dripping mist just past 6:00 a. m., dozens of runners peeled out of National Stadium to run more than 25 miles through “To-kee’yo.” Foremost among the favorites were 1988 Olympic champion Gelindo Bordin of Italy, Steve Moneghetti of Australia (1990's fastest marathoner with his 2:08:16 at Berlin), and Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia. 

    Heat quickly rose above 80 degrees F•, humidity near 100%, the city more like hothouse than plant, but the leader

    Fumes of buses and cars that bore officials and photographers blew into the lead-pack. Mekonnen, Pan-American Games winner Alfredo Cuba of Cuba, Freigang, Canada's Peter Maher and more fell behind. At 25-k (1:18:57) both Moneghetti and Japan's Takeyuki Nakayama blanched and lost contact. 

    Eight stayed together--Bordin and fellow Italian Salvatore Bettiol, Poland's Jan Huruk, Mexican Maurilio Castillo, Ethiopian Tekeye Gisilase, Ahmed Salah, and two Japanese, Futioshi Shinohara and Hiromi Taniguchi. At 33-k Bordin threw off his white cap. Splits rose to 16:37 and 16:33 for the 5-k's between 25 and 35. The marathon's war of attrition appeared to have only these left as possible victors.

    Another runner came into view on TV screens. Drawing from the spout of a water-bottle, Steve Spence, U. S. record-holder at 15 kilometers in 42:40 but a relatively inexperienced, 2:12 marathoner, advanced up a boulevard-like Dori whose slope was this course's one significant climb, it ascending about 100 feet in 2 kilometers.

    Spence caught the lead pack at 37-k. Bordin and Bettiol glanced at him with shock. 

    "At that point I thought I might be able to win," Spence tells us in the Interview Room. "But it turned out that some guys were just hanging out."  

                                                        36

 

 

    Hiromi Taniguchi scooted ahead. He threw his short steps into higher turnover, his head tilted sideways and backward. Saleh and Shinohara gave chase, but Taniguchi, age 31, the older Japanese, drove on between crowds' flag-waving cheers, his eyes scrunched tight, his grimace growing wider, as if his stress was partly bliss.

    He pulled away from Salah. 

    Within sight of the Stadium our TVs’ many-channeled coverage caught Spence's passing of Huruk and Shinohara. Once on the track, the long-striding blond runner gained 6 more seconds in 500 meters, becoming the first male marathoner from the U. S. to medal in a major international championship since Frank Shorter won Silver at the 1976 Olympics.

    In the Interview Room reporters question Spence further. What does he think his accomplishment means for U.S. running? "I think it was just a matter of time before one of us broke through," he says. "Fortunately for me I got to be the one."

    Questions return to Taniguchi. He’s asked how he prepared in the day before the Marathon. His answer fills another period of several minutes.

   “You would like to know what time did Mr. Taniguchi go to sleep last night, and what did he have to eat?” beginsy window. I wondered what time it was, and so I looked ... This morning, when it was still dark, I did have some breakfast, yes.  My breakfast was toast with tea. At 4:30, as my coaches had planned, we got on the train to come to the Stadium.... "

    Hiromi Taniguchi is asked what intentions he’d  brought to this Marathon. 

    This question he answers in one sentence. His coach, 2:09-marathoner Takehishi Soh, nods next to him.

                                                      37 

 

    The translator: "Mr. Taniguchi says that he came to these Games with the belief that all his ability would be manifested."

 

 

                                        CLOSING CEREMONY

                      SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 19:00 ...,  27 C•

 

    Sunday evening's Closing Ceremony gathers national teams inside the Stadium. Beside the  pixellated scoreboard and below the pot of quivering flames, taiko drummers beat their deep, dense rhythms with muscular precision. Athletes march in lines across the infield. 

    During the preceding week many winners have thanked those close to them for support. U. S. Decathalete Dan O'Brien said: “My coaches had me ready to perform on an asphalt track if that was necessary.” Long-jumper Mike Powell, who broke the most enduring and awesome of Track & Field World Records in a duel with Carl Lewis that was this Championship’s most memorable contest, said: “I’ve seen myself break that Record for seven years. I’ve  really got to thank my coach, Randy Huntington.”  Hassiba Boulmerka of Algeria and Steeplechase-winner Moses Kiptanui of Kenya also acknowledged that they’d succeeded through the help of peers. 

    They’d used a kind of "Wa" to achieve their individual excellence. 

    Contrary to stereotypes of lockstep salary-men and obedient wives, "Wa" is NOT meant to produce unthinking conformity and  passable mediocrity. Like other ancient wisdom, it allows room for opposites--for contrasts-- for REBELLION, even--in its whole.     

   Look to where people live ann dance in Tokyo.

   On the concluding weekend of these Championships, folk dancing of Awa Dori took over streets in Koenji, nearby Shinjuku's neon-blazoned high-rises of Shops, Stores and Nightclubs. 

    One folk song there told the crowd: "Those who dance are fools/ And so are those who watch."  

    In the Underground of Tokyo I’ve seen much more of conversation and many more of distinct, individual faces than are evident in subways of the West.    

 

                                              38

 

    Now, in the middle of the Closing Ceremony’s pre-set order, athletes who march on the Stadium's infield suddenly break ranks. They come apart. They join together in new and spontaneous formations. They veer into multi-colored asymmetry below thewTV screens on armrests of our seats. They diverge onto the competition's Track like streamers and like cavorting dancers, arms on arms, hands aloft. 

    Announcing for the Championships' organizer, the Interrnational Amateur Athletic Federation, a woman broadcaster from Italy who has conveyed many dramas these past nine days, now requests: "All athletes will please stay on the field." 

    Well, no--We won't, thank you. At once the Japanese team shifts in a single but spontaneously emerging form onto the Track. They go further in their fance. Still following their upraised flag of the Rising Sun, they go counter-clockwise. They smile. They wave. They both smile and wave. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                39