BOSTON — Here come the South Africans. And here come the Koreans--again.
The Boston Marathon, a melting pot for distance runners, is welcoming the formerly exiled South Africans for the first time in the race's 97-year history and bringing back the Koreans for the first time in 43 years Monday.
"I've always wanted to run Boston," said David Tsebe, a 26-year-old South African who ran the fastest time in the world last year, 2 hours 8 minutes 7 seconds, in winning the Berlin Marathon.
"It's the big marathon.
"I first saw it on the news on television in 1991, and watched Hussein (Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya) win. Since then, I've wanted to run it."
Tsebe and all South Africans were barred from the Boston Marathon and all other international competition for more than 20 years because of the country's policy of apartheid.
Last year, the barrier was lifted, and the South Africans--finally given their chance to compete with the world's best--have proven they belong.
In addition to Tsebe winning at Berlin and finishing third in the Honolulu Marathon, a race he used as a prep for Boston, Joseph Skosana won the Taipei Marathon, Michael Scout won the Hokkaido Marathon, Lawrence Peu finished second in the Fukuoka Marathon in his marathon debut and Willie Mtolo won the New York City Marathon.
Scout, Peu and Xolile Yawa, a first-time marathoner but winner of several 10,000-meter races in South Africa, will join Tsebe in Monday's strong international field.
Mark Plaatjes, a native of South Africa and now a U.S. citizen living in Boulder, Colo., also is entered. He won the 1992 Los Angeles Marathon.
Peu said the South Africns have gotten motivation for the race by realizing they will be facing the world's best marathoners instead of just racing among themselves.
"We have been isolated for so long," he said.
"He wants to prove to the world he is the best and get the financial reward," said Jacques Malan, Peu's coach.
Tsebe already has cashed in, off his Berlin victory.
"His earnings for running international marathons has shot up considerably," said Tony Longhurst, Tsebe's agent and manager.
With his Berlin earnings, Tsebe a black man--like the other South Africans in Monday's race--purchased a house in a white area.
"Before that, he was living in a hostel, sharing a room with one of his brothers," Longhurst said.
The marathon will give the South Africans another opportunity "to show their expression of freedom," Longhurst said.
"It will be another chance to show the world how good they are," he said. "They don't see this as just for the black people or just for the white people. They see it as a chance for the whole country--a chance to unite the entire country."
Korea, meanwhile, will be represented by one elite athlete--Kim Jae-Yong, 26, the 10th-place finisher at last year's Olympics. With a career-best of 2:09:30 in winning the 1992 Seoul Marathon, he is among Monday's favorites.
He is the first Korean in the race since 1950, when Kee Yong Ham led a Korean sweep of the first three places. Three years earlier, Yon Bok Suh won the Boston Marathon in 2:25:39, the only time the world record has been broken in the race's storied history.
Last year, another Korean, Hwang Young-Cho, won the Olympic marathon, the first time a Korean had won the gold medal since 1936, when Kee-Chung Sohn finished first. However, since Korea was under colonial occupation of Japan, Kee-Chung was required to compete for Japan and stand for the national anthem of another country.
The Korean tradition has not been lost on Kim.
"They were all my heroes when I was growing up," he said through a translator.
While the South Africans and Korean are considered among the top contenders, the favorite is the formidable Hussein.
The 34-year-old Kenyan, the two-time defending champion and three-time Boston winner, will be trying to join a select group of four-time champions. Only Clarence DeMar, a seven-time winner, and Gerard Cote of Canada and Bill Rodgers, each with four victories, have won the race as many as four times.
Other leading entries in the field of approximately 8,000 include Juma Ikangaa of Tanzania, a three-time runner-up and the 1989 New York City Marathon winner; Stephan Freigang, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist from Germany; Hiromi Tanaguchi, the 1991 world champion from Japan; Steve Jones of Wales, the former world record-holder; Abebe Mekonnen of Ethiopia, the 1989 Boston winner; Steve Spence of Chambersburg, Pa., the top-ranked U.S. marathoner the past three years, and Joaquim Pinheiro of Portugal and Andres Espinosa of Mexico, the 2-3 finishers last year.
The women's field also has excellent quality.
It includes defending champion Olga Markova of Russia, Olympic gold medalist Valentina Egorova of Russia, 1984 Olympic winner and two-time Boston champion Joan Benoit Samuelson of Freeport, Maine, 1991 world champion and Boston winner Wanda Panfil of Poland, 1985 Boston champion Lisa Weidenbach of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Kim Jones of Spokane, Wash., the top-ranked marathoner in the U.S. in 1986, 1989 and 1991.
A total of $440,000 in prize money is being offered, with $65,000 to the men's and women's first-place finishers.
The 26-mile, 385-yard race traditionally begins at noon EDT in the little town of Hopkinton, west of Boston, and ends in the middle of the city at Copley Square.