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In our secondary school days in the 1960s/1970s, the annual Inter-Schools and Colleges Athletics competition was climaxed on the final day with the Boys’ 110 x 4-yards relay soon after the Girls’ race. This marked the height of excitement.
In the just ended Tokyo-2020 Olympics, the Games got climaxed by the Men’s and Women’s Marathon races. So, what is a Marathon race and how did it come by the name?
Before then, how did Ghana fare?
Ghana at Tokyo 2020
In a quote attributed to Ghana’s GOC-president on radio/TV in August 2020 after the postponement of Tokyo 2020 to 2021 because of covid-19, he allegedly said there was “no way” Ghana could win a medal in Tokyo, even though in sports, anything can happen.
On Saturday 31 July 2021, Featherweight boxer Samuel Takyi assured Ghana of a Bronze when he qualified for the semi-finals, which sadly he lost. Unfortunately, the entrenched pessimism of Ghana’s professional critics in their comments even in the face of Takyi’s medal qualification, the first since Black Meteors’ Bronze at Barcelona-1992, was disconcerting!
Also praiseworthy is the performance of swimmer Abeiku Jackson who won his heats, but did not qualify by time to the next round. Good luck in Paris 2024!
History has it that in the years before Christ (BC) over two thousand years ago, Persia, modern day Iran, and Greece were mortal enemies. They had fought a series of wars with Persia gaining territory. In 490 BC, the two armies fought in what Persia believed was going to be the final show-down against Greece. However, at the battle fought at the Greek village of Marathon, the Greek Army comprehensively beat Persia.
Philippides, a Greek soldier and a long-distance runner was tasked to courier the good news to the authorities in Athens the capital. He is said to have run non-stop from Marathon to Athens. When he burst into the Greek Chamber of Magistrates, the equivalent of our Parliament, he shouted “Joy to you. We have won!” With the news delivered, he collapsed and died of exhaustion.
The distance Philippides ran from Marathon to Athens was twenty-six miles, three-hundred and eighty-five yards (26 miles, 385 yards). In the metric system, it is forty-two kilometres and two-hundred metres (42.2 kilometres.)
When the modern Olympics started in 1896, Greece the first host, decided to have an event covering the distance Philippides ran from Marathon to Athens. This was to honour and immortalise Philippides as well as the name Marathon. To this day, the Marathon-race is the longest and perhaps the most difficult race in athletics, testing athletes’ endurance, physical and mental strength.
East African dominance
Since sub-Saharan African countries became independent starting with Ghana in 1957, the Marathon-race and the 10,000-metres/long-distances have been dominated by East Africa, particularly Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Indeed, on the first day of Athletics of Tokyo-2020 on 30 July 2021, Selemon Barega of Ethiopia won Gold, with Kenya taking Silver and Bronze.
Starting from the Rome-1960 Olympics, last-minute substitute Bikila Abebe of Ethiopia not only won Gold, but set a new record. Four years later in Tokyo-1964, Abebe replicated his Rome feat by winning Gold again. The 1968 Mexico City marathon was won by Ethiopian Mamo Wolde. In the Sydney-2000 Games Ethiopian Gezahegne Abera won Gold.
In later years Abebe’s countryman Haile Gebreselassie would dominate Olympic/World 10,000-metre races winning Gold in two Olympics.
Beijin-2008 Olympics saw Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya win Gold. At London-2012, Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda won Gold, while Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya won Rio-2016 marathon Gold.
At Tokyo-2020, Kenya won Gold and Silver in the Women’s Marathon when Peres Jepchirchir beat the World champion her compatriot Brigid Kosgei.
On the last day of Tokyo-2020-Olympics on 8 August 2020, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge successfully defended his Rio-2016 Gold by winning Tokyo-2020 Gold.
While Kenya/Ethiopia/Uganda have carved a niche for themselves as Marathon and long-distance running nations at both Olympic/World Games, Ghana has not done well despite a good Commonwealth track-record. The Marathon/long-distance races have never been our forte. Nonetheless, it is sad our capabilities in sprints and boxing have not translated into Olympic glory since Barcelona 1992, until boxer Takyi broke the-29year-old jinx in Tokyo-2020.
Well done to boxer Samuel Takyi, and swimmer Abeiku Jackson.
Inadequate preparation and lack of financial support have been identified as the hindrances to our Olympic success. So, why can’t we solve it?
As for our brethren/sistren from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, they have annexed the Marathon Olympic/long-distance medals as their incontestable bonafide property, even though the Greek runner Philippides was nowhere near them in 490 BC. Congratulations to them!
Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association
Family Health University College