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Legends that laid athletics marker for Kenya

Last updated 1 month ago | By Jonathan Komen

The late Nyantika Maiyoro number 91 (left) competes in England 1956. [File]

It’s an interesting statistic. From 1956 to 2016, Kenya has won 103 medals at the Olympic Games in boxing, track and field events –with 42 medals from 2008, 2012 and 2016 outings.

But Kenya has not won Olympic women’s 10,000m gold medal and basks in one men’s 10,000m gold medal won by the late Naftali Temu in 1968.

That day on October 13, 1968 inside Olympic Stadium in Mexico City remains a memorable one for Kenya.

It was just three months after Tom Mboya had been killed and the political temperatures were still high. It was also five months before Neil Armstrong and his crew landed on the moon.

Temu lined up on the only final race of the day – men’s 10,000m – and struck gold.

His feat inspired team mates Kipchoge Keino, Amos Biwott, Ben Kogo and 4x400m relay team of Daniel Rudisha, Hezekiel Nyamau, Naftali Bon and Charles Asati were to win gold and three silver medals.

It not only turned out as a breakthrough in middle and long distance running, but it added to the country's sporting history.

Turn the clock to 1954 when the late Nyantika Maiyoro became the first Kenyan athlete to compete in a global contest at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada, leading the national team that had 4x440 relay greats in Bartojo Rotich, Wanyoike Kamau, Musembi Mbathi alongside Silas Kibet Boit and Kiptalam Keter in 800 yards.

Maiyoro, running barefoot and competing against then experienced athletes Chris Chatterway and Frank Sand of England, came close to winning the three mile (5,000m) race, finishing fourth in 13:43.8.

Maiyoro was not heart-broken and formed the 1956 Olympic team, where he once again failed to win a medal.

He made the 1956 Olympic Games team alongside Kanuti Sum and Musembi Mbathi, Arere Anentia, Bartojo Rotich, Joseph Leresae, Kanuti Arap Sum, Kibet Boit (captain), Kiptalam Arap Keter, Nyantika Maiyoro, Wanyoike Kamau among others. Nyantika finished seventh in the 5,000m.

Kiptalam Keter (4x400m) and Wanyoike Kamau (440 yards) were also in the mix as Bartojo Rotich soldiered on to win a medal in 440 yards in 51.7 seconds.

Maiyoro took part in the 1958 Commonwealth Games and appeared in his last Olympics in 1960 with a seventh place in 5,000m.

Then youngsters in the late Arere Anentia (10,000m) and Bartonjo Rotich (440 yards) won bronze medals in the 1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games –becoming the first Kenyans to win medals in an international competition.

The 1960 Olympic team comprised new talents in Paul Odhiambo, Kiptergech Kesio, Seraphino Antao and Lazaro Chepkwony.

It was also a bad moment for Kenya in 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, Italy, where no athlete ascended to the podium. Seraphino Antao (140 yards and 220 yards) and Nyantika Maiyoro (3 miles) were in the squad.

Four years later, Antao won gold in the 110 yards and 220 yards, a feat yet to be matched by any other Kenyan while Kimaru Songok won silver in the 440 yards.

Antao went on to win 100 yards and 200 yards at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia, while Kimaru Songok lined up in 400 yards.

Wilson Kiprugut Chumo struck Kenya’s first Olympic medal when he won 800m bronze at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

In 1965, Songok won gold in 400m hurdles at the inaugural All Africa Games in Congo, Brazzaville.

He also anchored the 4x400m relay team to silver alongside Peter Francis, Kanut Sum and Wilson Kiprugut Chumo.

John Owiti (100m) and Diana Monks (80m hurdles) settled for silvers as Samwel Sang settled for bronze.

During the Pan Africa Games, Kipchoge Keino sprung to limelight setting two world records in 1,500m and 5,000m.

That was after Kenya gained full independence with impressive show at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

They amassed six medals with gold from Naftali Temu (six miles), Kipchoge Keino (three miles) and Wilson Kiprugut Chumo (one mile) and a silver in 880 yards as the late Daniel Rudisha, the father of world 800m record holder David Rudisha, settled for bronze in 880 yards. Temu shone in 10,000m (6 miles) at the World Games in Helsinki, Finland, in 1967.

At the 1968 Olympics, Kenya reaffirmed its superiority in relays when the quartet of Hezekiah Nyamao, Daniel Rudisha, Charles Asati and Naftali Bon bagged 4x400m silver in Mexico City –as the foursome finished second in 2:59.6 behind hosts USA.

Kenya won 11 medals including three gold by Amos Biwott in the steeplechase, Naftali Temu in the 10,000m, Amos Biwott in 3,000m steeplechase and Kipchoge Keino in the 1,500m at the 1968 Olympics.

Following the feat, the triumphant team set the ball rolling for the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland.

By then, Kenya was dominant in middle and long distance races, but Charles Asati upset the rulebook. He went on to win bronze in 200m and gold in 400m while the late Robert Ouko, Kipchoge Keino and Ben Jipcho shone in 800m, 1500m and 3000m steeplechase respectively.

Asati marshaled forces with Ouko, Hezekiah Nyamao and the late Julius Sang to win 4x400m gold. Charles Yego then iced the champagne with a 400m hurdles bronze medal.

Things did not work well for Kipchoge Keino at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. But a gold medal harvest for 4x400m quartet of Charles Asati, Hezekiah Nyamao, Robert Ouko and Julius Sang warmed Kenyan hearts. They won medals from 400m to 5,000m.

Keino easily won the 3,000 steeple in a games record of 8:23.64 followed by Ben Jipcho and added his fourth Olympics medal, a silver in the 1,500m. Julius Sang struck bronze in 400m as Mike Boit won 800m bronze.

The four men took the world by surprise, winning the 4x400m in 2:59.83 where USA were the only team to have ran under three minutes.

Then came the second All Africa Games in Lagos, Nigeria, where Charles Asati (400m), Fatwel Kimaiyo (110 hurdles) and Tegla Chemabwai Sang (400m) won medals.

Tegla, who was married to the late Julius Sang, works as an instructor at Moi University under sports management course while Kimaiyo –whose national record of 13.69 in 100m hurdles still stands –worked at University of Eldoret.

Being among the first women to compete at the Olympics in 1968, Tegla inspired Sabina Chebichii, who was Kenya’s first woman to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974.

Chebichii, better known as the ‘bet-coat’ in athletic circles, did not betray her Kalenjin surname Chebichii, which means ‘a tough one’ as she won settled for bronze in 800m.

The absence of Kenya in the 1976 and 1980 was compensated by two five world records of Samson Kimombwa (10000m) in 1977 and legendary Henry Rono, the first man to break four distance world records in a space of 81 days in 1978 (the 3,000m flat, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m).

Returning to the games in 1984, Kenya could only win one gold medal through Julius Korir in the steeple and Mike Musyoka a bronze in the 10,000m.

Ruth Waithera became the first Kenyan woman to reach the Olympics games in the 400m. Mary Wagaki was 69th in the marathon. It was another 12 years before Pauline Konga became the first Kenyan woman Olympics medalist after winning the 5,000 metres in Atlanta. 

3000m steeplechase in Mexico city. The race held on 10/16/1968 was won by Amos Biwott of Kenya (562) and followed by Benjamin Kogo (562) of Kenya.
 Kenya's Vice President Daniel Moi congratulates Kipchoge Keino at Jamuhuri Park, Nairobi on 4th September 1967.
Susan Sirma
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