In our continuing series of legends in distance running, Capt Seshadri talks about the Kenyan distance runner Kipchoge Keino, nicknamed “The Flying Policeman”.
It was the Mexico Olympics of 1968. A champion middle distance runner, was suffering from gallstones, and had been warned by doctors not to participate, as he might be putting his life at risk. He was not one to pay heed. Running the 10,000 m, suffering from severe exhaustion, he nearly collapsed on the track with just three laps to go and, in the process, disqualified himself by stepping off the track. Pain and disqualification notwithstanding, he stepped back and completed the race. Just two days later, ignoring his pain, he won silver in the 5,000 m, where he finished a mere fifth of a second behind the gold medalist.
Having also qualified on the same evening for the 1,500 m finals, on the day of the finals, after having tried to sleep off his ache and discomfort, he woke up an hour before the event and just about made it to the bus that was leaving for the venue. Stuck in traffic on the way and realising that he would be late for the event, he got off the bus and ran the remaining 3 km to the stadium, carrying his kit with him. Starting his event just 20 minutes or so after reaching the stadium, he raced to the 1,500 m gold, beating the silver medal winner, the then world record holder and title favourite, American Jim Ryun, by an unbelievable 20 m. To this day, it is not clear whether such a large margin has ever been seen between winner and runner in this event at any Olympics. Four years later, at the Munich Olympics, he won the steeplechase gold and the 1,500 m silver, thus winning almost every conceivable middle distance race.
It started here
Kipchoge Hezekiah Keino was born in Kenya on January 17, 1940. His incredible career in international athletics began at the Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962, where he acquitted himself reasonably well, although he did not win any medals. His quest for gold fructified in 1965, at the All Africa Games where he broke the world record for the 3,000 m by over 6 seconds. Incidentally, he had never competed over that distance before. Later the same year, he shattered Ron Clarke’s 5,000 m world record in a time of 13:42.2.
As a child, Kip Keino went to a school around 4 miles from his home. From the tender age of five, in primary school, till he finished high school, he would run to class every morning, run home for lunch and back to school again, before sprinting home again in the evening. That worked out to an amazing 16 miles a day. And all of it barefoot under a scorching African sun! It is widely believed that Kip Keino was a fitness instructor in the Army and could have possibly trained using calisthenics. Although there very few documented reports about his schedule, some contend that he only ran around 60 or 70 miles a week, even taking off days every now and then.
Kip’s contribution to Kenyan athletics goes far beyond winning medals for his country. Years later, he remains an inspiration for hundreds of men and women athletes from his country who continue to make and break records in the world arena.
In his home town of Eldoret in Kenya, Kipchoge Keino, ably supported by his wife Phyllis, has established the Lewa Children’s Home, an institution for orphans, and the Kip Keino primary and secondary schools. For his dedication towards working with orphans, he was conferred with Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year” award in 1987, and characterized as one among “Athletes Who Care”. In 1996, he was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame.