Pacesetter Podcast: How Kenyan legend Ibrahim Hussein opened global marathon doors for Africa
What you need to know:
- The Kenyan legend had won a holiday trip to Hawaii from his university base in Albuquerque in 1984, and decided to run in the Honolulu Marathon that year while on his holiday.
- But the storm and windy conditions that year were so bad that Barahal and Cross convinced him not to run and, instead, aim for a 1985 return to the island.
Next Monday, Eliud Kipchoge, arguably the greatest distance runner of all time, makes his debut on the streets of Boston, seeking to become the first man to win five of the six World Marathon Majors races.
About 30,000 athletes will run in the 127th edition of the Boston Marathon – the world’s oldest annually run marathon - starting at Hopkinton and concluding on Boylston Street, just outside the Boston Public Library.
The Boston Marathon is part of the World Marathon Majors series that also features the Tokyo, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City marathons.
Kipchoge has already won in Tokyo, London, Berlin and Chicago, and after Monday’s race in Boston, he expected to return to the USA for the icing on the cake at the New York City Marathon on November 5.
Besides Kipchoge, the other Kenyan men lining up on Patriot’s Day next Monday are Evans Chebet, Benson Kipruto, John Korir, Norbert Kigen, Mark Korir, Michael Githae and Albert Korir.
The women’s field has Sheila Chepkirui, Joyciline Jepkosgei, Angela Tanui, Fancy Chemutai, Edna Kiplagat, Celestine Chepchirchir, Maurine Chepkemoi, Mary Ngugi, Vibian Chepkirui and Viola Cheptoo Lagat.
The Kenyan party will be hoping to maintain a tradition launched by compatriot Ibrahim Kipkemboi Hussein who became the first black man to win the Boston Marathon in 1988 with a time of two hours, eight minutes and 43 seconds, in a photo-finish with Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa.
Hussein went on to complete a hat-trick of victories in 1991 (2:11:06) and 1992 (2:08:14).
The legendary Hussein, now 64, had also opened the floodgates at the New York City Marathon, again becoming the first black man to win the iconic Big Apple race in 1987 (2:11:01).
But his first major marathon breakthrough was in 1985 at the Honolulu Marathon on the US island of Hawaii.
In a new Nation Sport podcast series titled The Pacesetter, we chat exclusively with Jim Barahal, president and CEO of the 50-year-old Honolulu Marathon, on Hussein’s early elite running career and how the Kenyan legend and University of New Mexico alumnus found a home on the island of Hawaii.
Barahal – Hawaii’s leading medic who first got involved with the Honolulu Marathon in 1984 - along with fellow elite runner and now Hawaii-based dentist Jonathan Cross, were very much part of Hussein’s early elite career, helping him chalk up victory in Hawaii before launching a superstar career in Boston and New York City.
In the first of a four-part series on Hussein’s ground-breaking career, Barahal talks about his first encounter with Hussein and how the Kenyan legend helped lift the profile of the Honolulu Marathon.
“In 1984 there was really very little money in marathoning and there were very few marathons,” Barahal recalls.
“The Boston Marathon was going through upheaval. They were making the transition towards getting sponsors and money was coming into the sport…
“And then (Life insurer) John Hancock stepped in. John Hancock coming into the marathon in 1985 is what really started the big city marathons having significant prize money and paying athletes. Till then it wasn’t being done.”
“When I came into the Honolulu Marathon in 1984, there was no money. There were just a few plane tickets from Pan American Airlines and there was actually no money, so to put together a top field was hard.
“But, interestingly, in the 1970s the Honolulu Marathon put together some very strong athletes because Nike was the sponsor. But they didn’t pay those athletes… it was a very different sport.
“So when I came in with Jon Cross, who was my friend and a top runner in Hawaii, we were given this job and very little money.”
Barahal recalls Hussein’s early romance with Honolulu Marathon.
The Kenyan legend had won a holiday trip to Hawaii from his university base in Albuquerque in 1984, and decided to run in the Honolulu Marathon that year while on his holiday.
But the storm and windy conditions that year were so bad that Barahal and Cross convinced him not to run and, instead, aim for a 1985 return to the island.
“In 1984, a representative of Adidas had brought a few athletes to us – there was Michael Musyoki, who was a steeplechaser at Texas, El Paso, Peter Koech, an Olympic-level steeplechaser… in those days, great Kenyan and Tanzanian track athletes ran in college.
“Henry Rono, for example, ran at Washington State University… these guys,” Barahal recalls.
“Ibrahim ran at the University of New Mexico and (Adidas agent) Ernie told us there is this great athlete who won a free trip to Hawaii by winning a marathon in Albuquerque called the Duke City Marathon, and would be coming with a friend. He wanted us to pass by and say hi, and just make sure he (Ibrahim) is OK.
“So went over to his hotel, met Ibrahim and his friend, looked at the room and we said ‘man, this hotel room is too small!’
“So, we immediately moved him to our (Honolulu Marathon) host hotel and got him a much better room, and started running with him…
“That was a 29-minute 10km guy, and I was a 31-minute 10km guy and so we could run with Ibrahim on an easy run.
“Running with Ibrahim on the Ala Wai Canal here (Honolulu) in the evening and getting to be friends with him – because he’s a great guy – was amazing.”
Listen to the complete story on Ibrahim Hussein’s big breakthrough in Hawaii on The Pacesetter podcast at: ntvkenya.co.ke/podcasts and also at nation.africa.