The Way I See It

Pat Bigold

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, December 15, 1998

The marathon
needs more winners
like Hussein

ASK Mbarak Hussein what his favorite NFL team is.

Go ahead, ask him.

The 33-year-old Nandi tribesman from Kenya who won the tightest and fastest finish in Honolulu Marathon history Sunday will tell you.

He's been hooked on football since he saw the University of Hawaii play Michigan in 1987.

''I've been rooting for the Denver Broncos, but I would like to see Minnesota win it all,'' he said. ''They've been working so hard to develop the last few years."

There's no reason why Hussein shouldn't identify with a team whose history resembles his own.

In 1987, when he arrived here from Kenya as a wide-eyed 22-year-old, he didn't have a fraction of the English vocabulary he commands now. He couldn't understand why people along Waikiki Beach dressed so immodestly. And he kept asking Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal and race director Jon Cross, the Michigan alums who introduced him to football, why those guys kept crashing into each other over the odd-shaped ball.

He entered his first marathon that year, the third year of his famous brother Ibrahim's reign over the race.

''I was not a runner then," said Mbarak Hussein.

IT was an undistinguished debut. He finished just five minutes under three hours.

''I wasn't even sure I was going to finish," said Hussein.

Winning the Honolulu Marathon like his big brother, who had also conquered Boston and New York, became his dream.

But winning Honolulu in more exciting fashion than Ibrahim beat Juma Ikangaa in the 1988 Boston Marathon -- a one-second difference -- seemed just too far-fetched an aspiration.

That's why a chill ran up Mbarak Hussein's spine when he was battling shoulder-to-shoulder towards the Kapiolani Park finish line with countryman Erick Kimaiyo.

He was getting the dream, and getting it in the most spectacular style possible -- albeit 11 years later.

''It made it more memorable this way than if I had won with a 5-second lead," said Hussein. ''It was better for the spectators."

You can say that again.

If there's anything the marathon event needs, it's more finishes like Sunday's. A 26.2-mile race that ends in a heart-pounding 100-meter dash is an incredible sight.

BUT what the marathon needs even more than that are winners like Mbarak Hussein.

Since the Kenyan domination of distance running began, the sport has become a succession of faceless champions who do little more to relate with their public than wave half-heartedly at award ceremonies.

But Mbarak Hussein, who trains in New Mexico, has a face, he has a voice, and he has a personality with which most of us can identify.

After he completes his Saturday morning run, he showers and sits down to watch college football. On Sunday, he's got the clicker in his hand, watching the NFL.

''If I had a chance to do it again, I might want to be a wide receiver," he said with a laugh.

Hey, I'm glad he won.

This guy does what so many of the foreigners who win American marathons can not, or will not do. He understands, appreciates and connects with the culture of the country in which he competes.

I mean, Mbarak Hussein can actually speak our language.

''I think the NFL playoffs will be tough this year, and some of the big teams will be knocked off," he was saying yesterday. ''Watch out for the Buffalo Bills."

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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