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Ben Jipcho, man who made Keino great

Ben Jipcho at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand on January 29, 1974. [Getty Images]

The death of athletics legend Ben Jipcho yesterday rekindled memories of Kenya’s journey in the sport.

His death at the Fountain Hospital in Eldoret plunged the athletics fraternity into mourning, with tributes pouring in from the country’s legendary athletes and leaders.

Led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyans paid moving tributes. Jipcho took his final bow at 3:08 Friday morning. He was 77.

Generosity, hard work and humility summed up tributes that poured in following the legend’s demise.

Jipcho’s history will never be complete without the mention of the 1968 Olympics where he helped his countryman Kipchoge Keino win the 1500m race and beat the then world record holder Jim Ryun.

Jipcho and Kipchoge’s journey started in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

Kipchoge from Nandi County recalled how he ran against Jipcho who hailed from Mt Elgon at the 1968 Olympics.

“I was sick and I was told that I would not participate in 1,500m. My doctor said I shouldn’t run. I told my coach Charles Mukora that I will compete,” an emotional Kipchoge recalled.

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He explained: “There was a traffic snarl-up in Mexico City and I had to walk for four kilometres to the stadium. When Jipcho saw me, he was re-energised. He was very happy and what followed is unforgettable.”

Jipcho took the field through a blistering 56-second first 400m in the Estadio Olympico Universitario, leaving Jim Ryun gasping for breath and Kipchoge easily won the race.

When his time came, Jipcho won silver at the 1972 Munich Olympics as his rivalry with Kipchoge blossomed.

With Kipchoge ageing, Jipcho stepped up to the plate leading Kenya to win gold medals in 3000mSC and 5000m and silver in 1,500m at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“My success was down to Jipcho. He pushed me all the way. Without him I don’t know what I would be,” Kipchoge said yesterday.

“I was at the hospital on Thursday to see him. When I arrived at the hospital, he was in the ICU and his heart was beating too fast. We couldn’t do anything. I only prayed for his recovery. Unfortunately, we lost him hours later,” Kipchoge said.

President Uhuru eulogised the 1972 Munich Olympics 3000m steeplechase silver medalist as “a pioneer athlete who helped cement Kenya’s profile on the international stage as a top athletics nation.”

Ben Jipcho of Kenya (9) breaks the tape ahead of New Zealand athlete Dick Quax to win at the Coca Cola International Athletics meeting at Crystal Palace in London, 14th September 1973. [Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images]

National Olympic Committee of Kenya president Paul Tergat said: “It is tragic news, a sad day for the sporting world. On behalf of my family and the National Olympic Committee of Kenya, we pray for his family at this difficult time that they may get the strength to deal with this tragic news.”

Tergat said Kenyan athletes should honour Jipcho by resisting the urge to cheat by using drugs.

“It pains me that after a strong foundation that Jipcho and his peers laid, there is a generation of athletes who are soiling the name of this country by way of violating anti-doping rules.”

“It is disrespect of the highest order for the pioneers of athletics such as Kipchoge, Jipcho and so many others that athletes are found to have violated the whereabouts rules,” Tergat said.

Legendary 3000mSC runner Moses Kiptanui described Jipcho as an iconic athlete, who inspired him when he was a young boy in primary school.

Kiptanui said he met Jipcho when he started professional athletics and he inspired him.

“He was down to earth. We used to laugh and enjoy every minute of our time whenever we met,” Kiptanui said.

He added: “It is sad that he died without being recognised as a national hero.”

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