OSAKA — Kipchoge “Kip” Keino made his Olympic debut at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games. Forty-three years later, the Kenyan legend was back in Japan, watching hundreds of elite athletes vie for world titles.
In his seven days in Osaka, Keino watched the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships, starting with the men’s marathon on Aug. 25.
After he returned to his home in Eldoret, Kenya, Keino, the president of the Kenya Olympic Committee, spoke with The Japan Times about this year’s events and the remarkable life he has lived.
He commended the IAAF for its qualifying standards.
“The whole competition was very tough,” Keino said, “and it shows that the standard of the athletics is getting strong.
“The athletes have a lot of courage and showed that they have a lot of courage to participate.”
The same words aptly describe Keino’s athletic career.
In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Keino collapsed on the infield during the 10,000-meter race due to the excruciating pain of his gallbladder infection. Despite receiving a disqualification for leaving the track, he got back and completed the race.
And then he went on to capture a pair of medals.
“In a week he went from a talented runner — known as a good guy — to a national hero. Like your Mickey Mantle,” said Mike Boit, a 1972 silver medalist, in a 1996 interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “He not only is the father of Kenya distance running, he put this country on the map. He’s our national treasure.”
Thousands have followed suit.
Kenya has built a worldwide dynasty in distance running.
He is their inspiration.
The Kip Keino High Performance Training Centre is at the forefront of elite-level training for runners.
Yet his legacy extends far beyond the track or the running trails.
The Kip Keino Children’s Home is a loving abode for children in need.
“We started with two children, then it went to six, then 10,” Keino said in a recent Laureus World Sports Academy press release. “Now it’s up to 90. We give them shelter and love. Many of these children who lived with us as orphans have gone to university, some are doctors, and when you see them with their own families living well in society, I feel very happy.”
The Kip Keino Primary School opened in 2000. Since it was established, around 500 children have completed their studies.
The Kip Keino Secondary School is scheduled to officially open next spring. In January, IOC president Jacque Rogge plans to visit the site. The IOC has aided Keino in the fundraising efforts.
“We take care of those people,” said Keino, a Nandi tribesman whose parents died when he was a young boy and who was raised by an aunt.
“They need to have encouragement to feel that they are part of our society.”
Keino was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame in 1996.
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Indeed, the pivotal year in Keino’s life story was 1968.
A few excerpts from a retrospective on his Olympic accomplishments that appeared on the WSHHF Web site follow:
“. . . It was in the 1,500-meter showdown with world record-holder Jim Ryun that Keino’s story became legend. Suffering agonizing pain, he finally conceded to doctors’ orders and remained in the village on race day. But as the start drew near, he became restless and boarded a bus, only to get stuck in a traffic jam.
“Jogging the final two miles to the stadium, Keino arrived moments before the gun. He went out fast to neutralize Ryun’s vaunted closing kick. The American, in the midst of a three-year win streak, finished 20 meters back for the silver.”
Keino earned two medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics, a silver in the 1,500 and a gold in the 3,000 steeplechase. He retired from international competition a year later.
Back in Osaka, Keino said he was most impressed by a trio of exceptional runners: Tyson Gay, the 100-meter men’s champ; Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei, the 800 women’s winner; and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, who won his third consecutive 10,000 at worlds.
What especially attracted Keino to these three winners?
Their finishing performance was dominating and their courage,” Keino said. “Their (competitive) spirit is most important.”
Keino had time to meet some of the Japanese athletes, but was unable to visit the athlete’s village.
Luke Kibet’s victory in the meet-opening marathon was welcome news, a bit surprising, too, for the icon who set worlds records in the men’s 3,000 and 5,000 in a two-month span in 1965.
“We didn’t expect that he could win the event. But he showed that he prepared himself mentally and physically,” said Keino. “Although the best were not there, but whoever young we took performed very well.”
Kenya was second to the United States in gold medals with five overall.
He said, “I am very proud of our athletes and it showed that we have done a lot for our own athletes. We need to improve in other events.”
Nowadays, Keino runs two or three times a week, 3 km to 6 km. It’s an “easy run,” he said.
He also spoke about the success of Japan’s runners.
“I was very encouraged by the Japanese marathon runners,” Keino said, adding that he was happy Reiko Tosa earned a bronze medal.
Then he paused and said: “Tell her to keep working very hard.”
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