Two Kenyans, neither of whom has much of a racing history, continued the African domination of the distance events Saturday when Peter Rono won the men’s 1,500-meter race and John Ngugi won the 5,000.
This comes on top of Olympic victories by Kenyans Paul Ereng in the 800 meters and Julius Kariuki in the steeplechase. In addition, M. Brahim Bouitahyeb of Morocco won the 10,000-meter race. This should have been no surprise as African runners had won every distance event except the steeplechase at the 1987 World Championships.
Still, neither of Saturday’s winners was much of a favorite. Rono, a sophomore at Mt. St. Mary’s, a small college in western Maryland, was the third runner picked to his country’s 1,500-meter team. His best finish? “In the World Championships, I made it to the semifinals,” he said. “And that was all.”
Rono, no relation to Henry, led all but the first lap in a race that developed into an-every-man-for-himself affair. The runners broke fast, and it stayed pretty much that way for the four laps, Rono leading all but the first one. His time of 3:35.96 was well off the Olympic and world records, yet he was well ahead of the competition, none of whom could push him in the backstretch.
Rono looked and looked as he headed for the tape, but he only had to hold on for the gold. Peter Elliott of Great Britain and Jens-Peter Herold of East Germany finished 2-3, with times of 3:36.15 and 3:36.21, in a race that was almost more remarkable for who finished out of the running.
This was supposed to be a race of substantial intrigue. But various possible duels simply did not come about. Absent on the medal stand was Great Britain’s Steve Cram, the 1984 silver medalist, who finished fourth. Absent from the race was Said Aoutia, who had pulled out of the semifinals with a pulled hamstring.
Elliott, who had decided to run on Cram’s shoulder, later regretted the decision. Perhaps, it was said, he had overestimated Cram. “Perhaps that was true,” he admitted, noting that Cram had not made it past the first round in the 800-meter race and had missed 2weeks of training before the Olympics. “But I thought maybe he’d try to prove himself in this. But I noticed Steve couldn’t really respond.”
Elliott, perhaps like everyone else, hadn’t given the Kenyans much of a chance. “I knew they had been having a very good Games,” he said, “but I thought it would be between me and Steve Scott and Steve Cram. But Peter just took it and the race began to unfold. From then on, it was just choosing for the medals.”
Scott, barreling along in his trademark sunglasses, finished fifth, behind Cram. “If it ain’t there,” he said of his home-stretch drive, “it ain’t there.”
The 5,000-meter race was a more straightforward affair. John Ngugi led from the gun and nobody even approached his pace. His time of 13:11.70 also was well off the world and Olympic records, both held by Aouita.
Ngugi, a 26-year-old civil servant from Nairobi, is a two-time world cross-country champion. In his only big-time race, he finished 12th after fading in the World Championships. He subsequently had a cyst removed from behind his knee.
Also medaling were West Germany’s Dieter Baumann in a time of 13:15.52 and East Germany’s Hansjerg Kunze in a time of 13:15.73.