- 19 Oct 1968
- Mexico 1968
Marathon man Akhwari demonstrates superhuman spirit
The basic facts don't tell the story. John Stephen Akhwari was a marathon runner who represented Tanzania in the marathon in 1968.
He didn't win a medal. In fact, he came nowhere near. But, in defeat and in pain, he came to represent something much more profound and enduring than many sportsmen achieve in illustrious careers.
Akhwari was never likely to win the marathon, but his chances were wrecked when, perhaps because of the effects of the high altitude, he succumbed to cramps that slowed his progress. If that was painful, then worse was to come after he was involved in a melee of athletes jockeying for position.
Akhwari fell to the ground, gashing his knee and also causing a dislocation. He also smashed his shoulder against the pavement. Most observers, seeing his injuries, assumed he would pull out and go to hospital. Instead, he received medical attention and returned to the track to continue his race.
His pace, of course, was now much lower, but his resolve to complete the event remained intact. Eighteen of the 75 starters had pulled out; he did now wish to add to that number.
And so, more than an hour after the winner, Akhwari crossed the line in last place, cheered home by a few thousand spectators who had remained in the stadium after the sun went down. By the time he reached the stadium, he was limping and the bandage around his leg was flapping in the breeze
He was asked why he'd carried on, and his response has gone down in sporting history. “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race,” he said. “They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
Akhwari recovered from his injuries and continued running long-distance races. He finished fifth in the marathon at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and also ran the 10,000m at the same championships. He was a good runner, but his performance, courage and dedication in the face of adversity is what history will remember him for.