By NIKKO TANUI
Our athletes have just done us proud at the IAAF World Championships, bringing home an impressive medal haul. It brought back memories of last year, when we were the top African country at the London Olympics.
It began in 1964 when Kenya’s impressive Olympic medal collection started, courtesy of Wilson Kiprugut Chumo.
The old man from Kericho County was the first Kenyan, and African, to win an Olympic medal when he bagged the bronze in the 880 yards (now 800 metres) race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The 2010 Kenyan Sports Personality of the year (Soya) ‘hall of fame’ award winner remembers with nostalgia how tears of joy streaked down his cheeks as the Kenyan flag was hoisted for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games.
“To bag a bronze medal back then was no mean feat as we lacked proper training facilities, professional coaches and
even running shoes,” Kiprugut, in his early 70s, says.
The former senior sergeant in the army says he began running while a student at Kaptebeswet Primary School and Sitotwet Intermediate School in the 1950s.
He recalls taking part in the East African athletic championships in 1958, where army scouts identified his talent and recruited him into the then African Rifles. After completing the armed forces training, the humble man who now concentrates on small-scale farming activities a few kilometres from Kericho Town says he went back to training hard on the track.
Come 1962, he led the 4x 440 yards team, whose other members were Kimaru Sonkok, Peter Francis and Seraphino Antao, in representing Kenya at the Commonwealth Games held in Perth, Australia.
“I believe we would have won some medals, but unfortunately, some team members fell sick during the journey to the games,” Kiprugut says.
Nonetheless, three years later, Kiprugut won two gold medals, in the 400 and 800 metre races, at the inaugural All African Games held in Brazzaville, Congo, in July 1965. In 1966, he participated in the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston, Jamaica, and won another bronze medal in the 880 yards.
During the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico, he bagged a silver medal.
A year later, he bowed out of active athletics and settled as a fitness instructor in the army until 1974, when he retired from the force.
“When you have a dream and are passionate about it, nothing can hold you back,” Chumo says of his accomplishments.
However, the proud great-grandfather laments that the Government is yet to recognise him for his trail blazing feat and contribution to national athletics.
In His Steps
The active community member, who this writer found preparing to attend a local fund raising event for bright but needy students, discloses that, unfortunately, none of his children followed in his footsteps in the athletic field, but they have had interests in other sports, such as basketball and volleyball.
Kiprugut, who has a spring in his step as he leaves for the event, advises the current crop of athletes to venture into other categories of sports.