Born Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino in the small town of Kipsamo in the Rift Valley region of Kenya in January 1940, the now 77-year-old is arguably the greatest ever Kenyan to set foot in a track.
A man whose story is one of the greatest ever told, Kipchoge who is also known as Kip, came from humble backgrounds and things didn’t get easier when he lost his parents, a situation that forced him to live with his aunt who raised him.
The then 5-year-old would ran for miles every other day just to get to school and thats when his journey as a potential track legend begun.
“When I started at primary school. I ran in my bare feet four miles to school in the morning, home for lunch, again for afternoon school and back at the end of the day. I did this every day until I left school.” He once revealed in an interview.
Meaning the diminutive athlete had to run over 16 miles every single day under the scotching sun just to receive an education, something that instilled the discipline and resilience that he was destined to show in the world’s biggest stage in years to come.
Even though Kipchoge possessed a colossal running ability it was until 1962 that the then 22-year-old began his international career as an athlete. Instead, Kipchoge joined the Kenyan Police force and worked as a physical training instructor. At the time, Kenya was not the runner generating powerhouse it is today. In fact, Kipchoge wasn’t the Legend that he is today.
At the 1962 Commonwealth games in Perth, Australia, Kipchoge came in 11th in 3 miles and finished in fifth place in the 5000 metres track field race at the 1964 Summer Olympics, missing out on the 1500 metres final.
It was until the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he narrowly missed qualifying for the 1500M final that Kipchoge’s resilience and determination started paying off. On 27 August 1965, Keino lowered the 3000 metres world record by over 6 seconds to 7:39.6 in his first attempt at the distance. He won two gold medals [1500 and 5000 metres] at the inaugural All Africa games.
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At this time, Kipchoge was curving his name as one of the finest distance runners of his time and later in that year, he broke the 5000 metres world record held by Ron Clarke, clocking 13:24.2.
By 1968, there was little talk on who the greatest track athlete in the world was as 28-year-old Kipchoge registered the largest winning margin ever in the history of the Olypmics, beating defeating American favourite and world record holder Jim Ryun by 20 metres, a man who hadn’t been defeated in three years.
Four years later, he won the 3000 metres steeplechase gold and 1500 metres silver at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.
At this point in time, Kenya’s anthem was a regular beat in athletic track and field events and was fast becoming the Athletic nation that it is today.
Despite his track and field achievements, Kipchoge’s greatest achievement came after 1973 when he retired from athletics and resettled in Kenya. With his wife, Phyllis Keino, he dedicated significant efforts to humanitarian work in Eldoret, Kenya. They have established the Lewa Children’s Home for orphans, the KipKeino Primary school in 1999, and the Kip Keino Secondary School in 2009.
Kipchoge has been the drive and inspiration for the long line of successful middle and long distance runners to come from the country.
A true great on and off the track and a leader of men, and we at Sporta celebrate him as a hero, a Shujaa.