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"Wa" (Team-Work] Wins at the World Championships of Track & Field

In 1991 I wrote a piece for Running Times about distance-running events at that year’s World Championships of Track & Field. My subjects also were Tokyo and Japan.

Learn how to hydrate. Run longer than your race's distance. Runners may benefit from the log of hot-weather training by medal-winner Steve Spence that's detailed by Amby Burfoot in Outside


Jeff Benjamin in RunBlogRun talks with Steve about maintaining high volume of mileage in the final few weeks before a Marathon.

TOKYO 1991—


Tokyo (“To-kee’yo, Japan,” Al Green pronounces it in Live In Tokyo, 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 modern memory that Japan alone of Nations has suffered, 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 show their marriage of ritual and technology and their appreciation of performances that are both artful and courageous.

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. The National Stadium 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 afford 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."

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.