Uganda joins African speed safari

Jan 21, 2013, 09:54 IST | Hemal Ashar

The Dark Continent seals its dominance on the Mumbai Marathon, which had its share of the fortitude, funny, fast `n' furious moments

Pace like fire till the wire
The Wikipedia, the online dictionary describes a pacemaker (or artificial pacemaker, so as not to be confused with the heart’s natural pacemaker) as a medical device that uses electrical impulses to regulate the beating of the heart. The primary purpose of a pacemaker is to maintain an adequate heart rate. That is the definition of a medical pacemaker. In a marathon though, the primary purpose of a pacemaker is to set the pace for a bunch of athletes and then usually drop out of the 42-km race by 30 km or so. Things did not go to plan, yesterday happily enough for Ugandan athlete Jackson Kiprop who was officially a pacemaker but ended up winning his first ever marathon. That too in a Mumbai course record. Mover 'n' shaker, oh pacemaker.

The divider looks lovely: Green and deep and there are no more miles to go before I sleep. This is 100m before the CST finish line. Pic/Amit Kamath        

Uganda on the Mumbai map
The Mumbai marathon is fast becoming a global melting pot of pounding feet. More and more foreigners are competing in the event, with the elite section first dominated by the Kenyans. Then, the Ethiopians elbowed in showing their Kenyan compatriots that what they could do, Ethiopia could do as well, if not better with their showing in the marathon. Some years ago, a Chinese runner had won the women’s section proving that the day of the dragon had arriveth on the Mumbai course. This time though another African nation, Uganda has found its place on the Mumbai marathon map, with a Ugandan winning the men’s section in a stupendous course record. For many Indians, Uganda is about Idi Amin, some Indians forced to flee when Amin expelled Asians and settle in Britain. Then, Uganda is also about the bigwig enterprises like those of the Mehta family founded by Nanji Kalidas Mehta who in 1900, at the age of 13, migrated to Uganda and started a series of businesses that included a tea plantation, a cotton ginnery, a sugarcane plantation and a sugar factory. Much water has flown under the bridge of history. Uganda in India may take on a new meaning, if Kiprop’s success opens the gateway for more Ugandans to add to the ranks of the formidable African running safari.

Silhouettes, sweat and sunlight: Of such moments is the race made as this picture with its play of light and dark shows . Pic/Vishal Yadav

Toll orders at BWSL
The open top double decker bus (blue in colour) a bit like the Mumbai darshan bus, let’s call it a Marathon Darshan, takes the media on the course as the press corps follow the 42-km elite field, the men simply eating up the miles. As the photographers train their lenses on the fast and fierce action on the road, they have to be careful not to be beaned by the low branches from the trees en route. Periodic shouts of “duck, duck, samhalo, neeche, watch out," are heard on the top deck of the bus. One also hears the press guiding the experienced bus driver, go slow, now fast --bus ko bhagao as the runners remain in view or fade out, depending on the speed of the bus. At the Bandra Worli Sea Link (BWSL) toll booths, a couple of people screamed jovially as the head group ran formidably through the empty booths - “hey collect the toll, toll, toll…” but the African were away all speed guns blazing and it was a couple of amateurs struggling stoically along, who looked like the course had taken a toll on them.

One for the album, yeah
The Sea Link, rising majestically above the water, its steel wires reflecting the steel in the spine of courageous runners. It is a picture postcard moment and even amateur runners on the course, were taking pictures of themselves and the unflagging elite runners as they ran effortlessly on the BWSL. But, there were other moments that were picture perfect too. Just a little after 7.20 am after the elite 42-km runners took off, they arrived a little before the Babulnath Temple. The sight was stunning. Two lead groups of ebony-hued runners looked like running in perfect synchrony. As if forming a frame to that, were the boats standing still on the Chowpatty Sea. The boats seemed to have stopped their bobbing in deference to some celestial running. The sun. looking fresh and rested after a good night’s sleep threw its rays down, beams glancing off the water. For a moment, Mumbai looked like one of those pictures from a tourism brochure. And if pictures could talk they would say: if there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.

Love is truly blind, here
It takes all kinds to make a world. There were those who jogged enthusiastically on Marine Drive as the lead runners came into view, one chance at actually running with the fastest men in the world. And then, there were others -- young couples who actually turned their backs (sacrilege, sacrilege) on the sight in front of them, sat on the parapet and gazed out into the sea, quite lost in a world of their own. Some of the world’s best running talent was passing them by but they could not care less. Now you know why they call Cupid, stupid.

Posters talk of pain
One of the more distinctive features of this race, is the sea of bottles, drinking cups, tetra packs and cool off sponges thrown on the wayside by runners. At one juncture, one could hear a crackling sound as runners trampled the Styrofoam glasses on the road. Talk about walking on eggshells or running on Styrofoam in this case. Meanwhile, also a doff of the metaphorical marathon hat to Peddar Rd near Woodlands building which saw a lot of cheering spectators who may have made this into a picnic of sorts.  Finally, not too many posters seen at the event, but there was one which said that: ‘not tired of running 42 km but of waiting for justice.’ Quite the mood of the moment in the nation, what with the clamour for fast track courts gaining increasing stridency.

Joy of winning for Binning
Finally, a clap on the back for the elite women too who set a new course record. The Kenyan, Valentine Kipketer running only her second full marathon (she had run in Hamburg earlier) set the roads ablaze with a 2:24:35 breaking the old record by more than a minute. This was a Valentine Day with a difference.

The Indian men, in the meanwhile did not set new records and failed to match earlier timings. Yet, Binning Lyngkhoi seemed happy with his win, while third placed Elam Singh said about being beaten into third, “Ram Singh hota toh baat hi kuch aur hoti. Shayad result kuch aur hota” (if Ram Singh Yadav would have been there, it would have been a different matter altogether, maybe the result would have been different). One is a little uncertain what Elam meant but it elicited a “kya baat hai” from Indian elite athletes co-ordinator Sunita Godara. Talking about athletes, Indian athletes. many from the army need to step up their vocal skills so that they can be more erudite with the media, hungering for swashbuckling statements and knock-you-off-your-feet quotes, post-race. Gift of the gab? Go get it guys and gals.

Same goes for the Africans who because they do not know English very well, are not able to express themselves post-race. Many of them are also painfully shy and trying to elicit answers from them seems to be like squeezing a fairly dry sponge to eke out some drops of water. All of ye fleetfoots, who thrill Mumbaikar’s with the heartbreaking beauty of your running, let the words roll off your tongue as easily as you run. After giving Mumbai running memories that will cling to minds like morning dew; all this and more we wish from you. 

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