25 Years Ago Today: The Greatest Race You’ve Never Heard Of
As the 14 finalists toed the line on February 1, 1990, for the final of the men’s 5,000 meters at the Commonwealth Games, there was no indication that the fans in Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium were about to witness one of the most exciting races of all time. A Kenyan sweep seemed the most likely outcome: Kenyan Moses Tanui had claimed the silver medal in the 10,000 a few days earlier and would become world champion at 10,000 the following year before being history’s first sub-60 13.1 man and winning the Boston marathon twice; Kenyan Yobes Ondieki ran the world’s fastest time (13:04.24) the year before and would become world champion at 5,000 in 1991 and history’s first sub-27 man in 1993.
And then there was Kenya’s John Ngugi. Ngugi had won the last four World Cross-Country Championships and earned the the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics with a dominating performance in the 5,000 meters (he would add another World XC title in ’92). He was the favorite.
If anyone was to break up the Kenyan sweep, it was likely to be the English duo of Jack Buckner and Mark Rowland. Buckner’s PR of 13:10.15 was faster than Ngugi’s and the 29-year-old was an experienced championship racer: he was European champion and Commonwealth silver medalist in 1986 and took bronze at the 1987 World Championships. Rowland hadn’t run the 5,000 as frequently but had earned Olympic bronze in 1988 in the steeplechase.
In this race, however, the form charts meant nothing. The race, which you can watch below, saw two separate falls, a massive last-lap comeback and a major upset victory. This is the story of that race, as told by the men who were there that day.
You should watch the video of the race below if you don’t know what happens as this is an oral history of the race. If you want the oral history click here.
(To keep reading with the oral history, click here)