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Kenya's greatest athletes who Olympic gold proved elusive

 Kenya's Tegla Loroupe raises her arms in celebration as she crosses the finish line to win the women's London marathon April 16 Reuters

Like much else in life, history, too, has two sides attached to it.

One dwells on triumph and has versions of great courage. It talks of life-time dreams; and brings back memories of global achievements.

The other side focuses largely on too near, yet so far moments. And that captures memories of Kenya’s greatest athletes who never won Olympic gold medals – despite breaking world records even without pacesetters.

Kenyan athletes hold no less than 17 world records in middle and long distance running – from 800m to marathon.

The all-time marks are men’s 800m, 3,000m (indoor and outdoor), two miles, 1,000m, 10km, 15km, 21km, 30km and 42km while women bask in 10km, 15km, 21km and 42km women-only record.

In this gunpowder, five men – Daniel Kipng’etich Komen, Yobes Ondieki, Moses Kiptanui, Moses Tanui and Eliud Kipchoge, stand out.

They emerged as barrier breakers in their world records. Komen is the only man alive to have run two miles in under eight minutes while Kiptanui was the first man to run 3,000m steeplechase under eight minutes.

Ondieki went down in history as the first man to run 10,000m in under 27 minutes while Tanui was the first man to run half marathon in under one hour. Kipchoge stunned the world by setting a jaw-dropping 1:59.41 at the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, Austria, in 2019 to become the only to run a marathon under two hours. Save for Kipchoge, the others never won an Olympic gold.

Here Standard Sports shares a ledger of Kenya’s greatest athletes who Olympic gold proved elusive despite winning global titles and breaking world records. Two Kenyan-born foreigners in Wilson Kipketer of Denmark and Saif Saeed Shaeen of Qatar are also on the zip.

Wilson Kipketer (Denmark)

Moses Kiptanui powers his way to win the men's unofficial distance of 2 miles during the international athletics in Hechtel, Belgium, July 1994 

Wilson Kipketer, who was born and bred in Kabirirsang village in Nandi County but later changed his nationality to Denmark, snatched 800m gold medals in 1995, 1997 and 1999 World Championships.

The village has the highest number of Olympic, World, Commonwealth and Africa 800m champions in the race’s history.

For 13 years, Kabirirsang basked in the world record – then held by Kenyan-turned-Dane Wilson Kipketer –as Sammy Kosgei dominated the Africa 800m all-time best time for a whole 24 years.

Veteran and Celebrated Athletes Tegla Lorupe, Paul Tergat and Catherine Ndereba 

This is the birthplace of Henry Rono, the man who broke four world records (3,000m, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m) in just 81 days in 1978, former world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei and Wilfred Bungei, the 2008 Olympic 800m champion. Despite the world records, Rono never competed at the Olympic Games.

Kipketer was undefeated for three consecutive years. He ran eight of the 17 currently all-time fastest times. His best performance at this stage was a silver in Sydney (2000) and bronze four years later in Athens. He still holds the indoor world record for the 800 metres.

Saif Said Shaheen (formerly
Stephen Cherono) Qatar

Shaheen is the world 3,000m steeplechase record holder at 7:53.63 while his elder brother Christopher ‘Jogoo’ Kosgei is the 1999 world 3,000m steeplechase champion.

Moses Kiptanui

For Moses Kiptanui, it was a moment to write history in the water and barriers race.

The moment he crossed the line at Zurich’s Weltklasse meeting in a world record of 8:02.08 in 1992, he knew he had the ability to become the first man in history to break the eight-minute barrier in the 3000m steeplechase.

With his bubbly strides, the diminutive Kiptanui employed an electric pace to clear the final circuit in 60.10 seconds and win in 7:59.18. History had been made.

It took Kiptanui 85 minutes to celebrate the historic 3000m steeplechase record before Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie erased his world 5000m record with a new mark of 12:44.39 in Zurich.

Kiptanui joined Henry Rono as the only men in history to set world records at 3000m, 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase.

Kiptanui was the first man to run sub-eight for steeplechase and sub-13 for 5000m. To date, only one other man – current world steeplechase record-holder Saif Saeed Shaheen – has achieved that feat. He won an Olympic silver in the 3,000m steeplechase at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Daniel Kipngétich Komen

Daniel Kipng’etich Komen holds three world records –3,000m (indoor), 3,000m (outdoor) and two miles.

Komen, a glowing alumnus of Biwott Secondary School in Keiyo South, is the only man alive to run two miles under eight minutes where he set the world record mark of 7:58 in Hechtel, Belgium, on July, 19, 1997.

Ethiopia’s multiple record holder Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie unsuccessfully tried to break the record to all in vain. Sadly, he never qualified for Olympic Games.

Tegla Loroupe

She was the first African woman to have held the world marathon record. Tegla Loroupe retired with 16 victories out of 50 competitive races.

Some of her top performances include five World Half Marathons (three individual and two team titles) and two New York Marathon wins.

Despite this, Loroupe is among Kenyan athletics big shots who never won Olympic gold. 

Paul Tergat

The sprint for the line in the Sydney Olympics 10,000m in 2000 was the defining moment of one of sport’s greatest rivalries.

It stands out as the closest and finest race in Olympic history. During the race, Tergat was still only the second best long-distance track athlete of his generation. Gebrselassie won his second Olympic gold medal in a time of 27 minutes 18.20 seconds. Tergat won his second silver in 27:18.29.

Tergat won two Olympic 10,000m silver medals – finishing behind Haile Gebrselassie at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 – and two world championship silvers over the same distance in Athens in 1997 and Seville in 1999.

The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was Tergat’s last appearance in 10,000m, which remains a memorable occasion. He held the marathon world record between 2004 and 2007.

Moses Tanui 2009 

Moses Tanui

He went into annals of history as the first man to run 21km in under one hour at Milan Half Marathon on April 3, 1993 –after winning 10,000m gold at the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, in 1991. But could not win an Olympic gold medal.

Catherine Ndereba

She won six of the 12 World Marathon Majors she entered between 1998 and 2016. She was once described by the Chicago Tribune as the greatest women’s marathoner of all time.

But her best performance at the Olympic Games was silver medals in 2004 and 2008. Sadly, the two silvers came just a year after she had won the world titles the previous year in Paris (2003) and Osaka (2007).

Ndereba won four Boston Marathon crowns and once held the women’s marathon world record when she broke it at the 2001 Chicago Marathon in 2:18:47.