Funeral: Why Chumo is John the Baptist of Kenyan athletics

Pallbearers sit around the casket bearing the remains of the legendary athlete the late Wilson Kiprugut Chumo during the funeral service held at Kiphbor war in Kericho county.[Standard]

A sombre mood engulfed mourners who had gathered to witness the funeral of Wilson Kiprugut Chumo at his home in Kericho County yesterday.

Chumo was an athletics legend, who won Kenya and Africa's first Olympic medal (800m), at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

And that prompted athletics enthusiasts to give him a befitting send-off, with a rallying call to immortalise athletics legends in the country. Kiprugut died on November 2, 2022.

Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba joined a host of athletics stars and politicians at the funeral at at his Kipchebor home in Ainamoi, Kericho.

Legendary athletes like Kipchoge Keino, Rose Tata Muya, Daniel Komen and David Rudisha were among hundreds of mourners who graced the burial.

Kiprugut's last born son, Gideon Kipngeno in his glowing tribute to his father described him as a "mother and father."

"While I was in Standard Four, I joined him at Brooke Bond where he worked as a field assistant after retiring from athletics. He taught me how to cook and how to wash my clothes," he said.

"Dad was a good man. He was a friend. I can't remember any incident whereby he punished anyone of us for small mistakes. He just required one to confess the mistakes, promise not to do it again, and take his advice seriously."

A little after 9am, Chumos's final farewell began. Not too far from the dais draped in red, black and white, stood the mahogany casket bearing Chumo's remains, surrounded by brightly-coloured petals strewn on the ground.

Kiprugut is also remembered for winning 400m and 800m titles at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City in what stands out as the highlights of his illustrious career.

Athletes, politicians and Kiprugut's family made a rallying call to rename Wilson Airport in honour of the legend.

Namwamba said Kiprugut broke the glass ceiling for Kenyan athletes and paved way for the nation's athletics dominance.

"He's Kenya's biblical John the Baptist of the athletics family. To rephrase the words of Winston Churchill, much is owned by so many of us to the achievement of Kiprugut, who set our reputation as an athletics powerhouse," said Namwamba.

But the CS regretted that the nation has not been treating her athletics legends well despite the fame and glory they brought internationally.

"This country owes her athletes a better treatment because they are our heroes and have brought to us fame internationally. I regret that Kiprugut died without a single national honour or medal. Our athletes deserve such accolades.

"We need to have a state-of-the-art stadium in Kericho to remember our hero, Kiprugut. Kericho Green Stadium is a sham and the Kapkatet Stadium is also an embarrassment. He deserves a state-of-the-art sports centre to be named after him," Namwamba said.

He requested Kericho Governor Erick Mutai and local leaders to identify a place where such a facility will be set up.

Mutai said his administration would rename Kericho Green Stadium after the late Kiprugut Chumo.

"Even then, we recognize the fact that the stadium isn't in great shape. The Sh60m tartan track which was laid down by the previous regime is in tatters," he said.

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