Home Games History – Robert de Castella

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Welcomed by a 13-metre high winking Kangaroo mascot named Matilda, the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony set the scene for a monumental event.

But the thrilling showdown in the men’s Marathon is what captured the Nation’s attention.

It was the second last day of the ‘Friendly Games’ – as Friday morning commuters made their way to work, Australian marathon runner Robert de Castella rose for business of a different kind.

In a thrilling showdown that would delight any sports fan, de Castella closed a 250 metre gap between himself and Tanzanian runners Juma Ikangaa and  Gidamis Shuhanga with just five kilometres to go.

Affectionately known as ‘Deek’, the Aussie went in as favourite but the final pursuit, no one saw coming.

Spectators’ gold medal hope dwindled as the finish line drew closer and the gap lingered, but de Castella’s self-assurance never wavered.

“I was surprised that both the Tanzanians went out so hard in the beginning,” de Castella said.

Robert de Castella takes the lead over Juma Ikangaa on Coronation Drive

“I thought there was a good chance they would fade.

“So I had a bit of confidence, that if I got a sniff – I could run them down.”

The battle for the lead continued, while de Castella sat tentatively at third place behind the Tanzanian team mates.

It wasn’t until Shahanga began to tire and fade that Ikangaa’s remorseless rhythm prevailed, creating a gap.

“When I saw Shahanga drop off it gave me opportunity to close in on Ikangaa,” he said.

“I knew it was looking good for me.”

After a tremendous surge, de Castella overtook Shahanga to position him just 25 metres behind first placed Ikangaa.

The home crowd roared with excitement.

“It was like a wall of people in front of me, and as I got closer they parted,”

“The crowd were going crazy, it was pretty exciting,”

“It’s just a cacophony of white noise… its all-encompassing but I was pretty focused.”

After 40 kilometres of pounding the pavement at world record pace, fatigue and exhaustion had set in, but de Castella maintained his stride.

As he approached Ikangaa on the final bend, the crowd grew louder.

The battle was now down to who held mental supremacy.

“He looked up at me as I came up on his shoulder and I think he got a bit of a shock,” de Castella said

“I’m sure he could hear the crowd and knew something was unfolding.

“I was finishing really strongly… you’ve just got to have that mental toughness and focus to overcome the pain.”

In the dying moments Ikangaa succumbed to the pressure and fatigue, de Castella lengthened his lead and threw his fists in the air as he stormed over the finish line.

35 years on, Coronation Drive still brings back fond memories for the two-time gold medallist.

 

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