World records: Why Jepchirchir, Kiptanui and Rudisha are in elite club of greats
ATHLETICS By Jonathan Komen | December 24th 2020
Ben Jipcho led the way for Stars that broke their own world records
Kenyan athletes hold world marks across various disciplines on the track and road.
Kenyan athletes hold no less than 16 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 when he set a jaw-dropping 1:59.41 at the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, Austria, last year to become the only man to run a marathon distance under two hours.
But David Rudisha, Moses Kiptanui, the late Ben Jipcho and Peres Jepchirchir ventured into another distinctive field of breaking their own records.
Jepchirchir, who set a new women-only world 21km record in Poland in October, has come a long way.
Despite facing an arguably the strongest 21km field ever, Jepchirchir became the fourth woman to win multiple times at the World Athletics World Half Marathon Championships.
She outsprinted German’s Melat Kejeta and Ethiopia’s Yalemzerf Yehualaw to win in Gdynia, Poland, in 65:16 – a new world record for a women’s-only race.
It was the second time she had broken that record in as many months (she ran 65:34 in Prague on September 5). Jepchirchir also won the World Half in Cardiff in 2016.
Jepchirchir, who trains in Kapsabet under Italian manager Gianni Demadona, is one of four women entered to have broken the world record (women’s-only or overall) in the last four years, and, crucially, she was the only one to stay on her feet for the duration of the race.
Four years ago, Jepchirchir was the best half marathoner in the world, winning the World Half title in 2016 and adding the world record to her resume at RAK in 2017.
She got pregnant thereafter and missed the rest of 2017 and almost all of 2018 while taking care of her baby.
In October 2019, she showed promise by running 66:54 in Lisbon, and this year, proved she is back to her very best, setting two women’s-only world records and taking down a loaded field in Gdynia, Poland, in October.
At 27, we sure hope to see her in Tokyo in 2021. She won Valencia Marathon in a course record last month.
In her first attempt at the event, she won in Saitama in December last year in 2:23:50. And surprisingly, she has no track records.
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.
That was Kiptanui’s greatest achievement. “I had planned the world record since 1992. To be the first man under eight minutes is more important for me than winning three gold medals at the World Championships,” he said.
“I didn’t want any pacemakers because I was very confident and I don’t like to have anybody before me. It’s better to clear the hurdles as the leader.”
Even as athletes continue to break world records, Kiptanui faults the new wavelight technology saying it denies other athletes fair competition.
“The wavelight technology is not fair at all. It is hard to break two own world records. I think the records ought to be classified separately,” he said.
It took Kiptanui 85 minutes to celebrate the historic 3000m steeplechase record before Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie erased his 5000m record with a new mark of 12:44.39 in the same meet in Zurich.
Kiptanui joined Henry Rono as the only men in history to set world records at 3000m, 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase.
Rono broke three world records within 81 days in 1978. Kiptanui never held all three records at the same time because his 3000m world record was broken in 1994, one year before he set a 5000m world record, but he held the world indoor 3000m record while his steeplechase and 5000m world records were intact.
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.
David Rudisha’s brilliance in 800m at the 2012 London Olympic Games stands out in athletics circles. It was chosen as the moment of the decade last year.
In the run up to Olympics, he had twice broken the world record in 2010 and won the world title in 2011.
He arrived in London undefeated throughout the 2012 season and with the four fastest times in the world that year. Unsurprisingly, he started as the overwhelming favourite.
But few would have predicted that Rudisha would have been capable of breaking his own world record in a non-paced championship setting.
Rudisha said he felt strong and even offered Timothy Kitum, then a teenager from world Under-20, 800m championships in Barcelona some tips.
“Don’t follow me or you’ll die towards the end. Go for the silver,” Rudisha told Kitum ahead of 800m final inside the Olympic Stadium in London.
It turned out to be good advice as Rudisha was unchallenged. Urged on by the 80,000 fans who were sensing a stunning moment in the making, the long-striding Rudisha maintained his lead to the finish, crossing the line in 1:40.91 — the world record mark.
Ben Jipcho, the 1972 Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medalist, broke the world record in the 3000m steeplechase twice over the course of eight days in 1973, first clocking 8:19.8 on June 19 then smashing that performance with an 8:14.0 run on June 27, both times in Helsinki.
Jipcho was later among the key stars of the International Track Association, a short-lived professional tour in the United States in early 1970s.
Jipcho began his running career in the mid 1960s, rose to prominence in the 1968 Olympic 1500m final in Mexico City where he sacrificed his own ambitions to feature in the medal battle by acting as a pacesetter for Kipchoge Keino, who went on to win the title over Jim Ryun.
He set out on a world record pace, covering the first lap in 56 seconds and bringing Keino through 800m in 1:55.3.
Keino won in 3:34.91, an astounding performance given Mexico City's high altitude, an Olympic record that stood for 16 years while Jipcho eventually crossed the line tenth.
He returned to the Olympic stage four years later, and again in the same race with Keino, this time the 3000m steeplechase.
Keino won again in Olympic record time while Jipcho caught Finn Tapio Kantanen at the line to take silver by a scant 0.02 in 8:24.62.
The Kenyan greats simply stand on the same wavelength alongside newly crowned Male World Athlete of Year Mondo Duplantis, Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
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