Never before in the history of the Olympic Games has Kenya’s performance been so good. As the curtain came down on the Beijing Games, Kenyan athletes had flipped through the history books cementing their names in folklore as the best country in Africa.
International sporting events are about nothing if not national pride. Ranked 15th overall out of the 204 countries that had paraded their best sporting talent, the local athletes returned home with a heavy bag of silverware. They had clinched a total of five gold, five silver and four bronze medals.
With such a great performance, two histories were made. First, Africa sensation Pamela Jelimo, at just 18, became the first ever Kenya woman to claim gold in the Olympics while Samuel Wanjiru, 21, filled the missing gap in Kenya’s stronghold - the men's marathon - to triumph after two previous attempts by Eric Wainaina and Dauglas Wakiihuri yielded silver medals. The two, Jelimo and the late Wanjiru, have cemented their names in Olympic folklore as true legends.
But it was Wilson Kiprugut who won Kenya’s first ever Olympic medal when he took bronze in the 800m during the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Ever since, Kenya has maintained a steady supply of talent in successive competitions. Kiprugut was once again on the podium four years later in Mexico City, where he scooped silver in 1:44.5.
It was also in Mexico City, four years after the first medal had been won, that Kenyan legend Kipchoge Keino struck gold in the 1,500m, clocking 3:34.9. He added silver in the 5,000m (14:05.2) behind Naftali Temu, who took gold in 14:06.4. Temu went on to claim a double in the 10,000m race in 29:27.4.
At the same event, Kenya won its first ever medal in boxing when featherweight Philip Waruinge scooped bronze.
The history of Kenya’s dominance in the 3,000m steeplechase was born in Mexico, and 40 years down the line, local athletes have kept their stranglehold on the race, save for 1976 and 1980, when Kenya boycotted the Olympics.
Amos Biwott won Kenya’s first steeplechase gold in Mexico ‘68 followed by Benjamin Kogo, who took silver. Kenya also won a rare medal in the men’s 4x400m relay, silver, from the quartet of Charles Asati, Naftali Bon, Hezekiah Nyamau and Daniel Rudisha.
In Berlin in 1972, with America dropping the baton, Kenya scooped the gold in the 4x400m relay race with Asati, Nyamau, Robert Ouko and Julius Sang. The other gold was won by Kipchoge Keino in the steeplechase, after taking silver in the 1,500m. Kipchoge (1,500m) and Ben Jipcho (3,000m steeplechase) secured silver medals while Julius Sang (400m) and Mike Boit (800m) finished third.
Waruinge improved on his previous performance as he clinched silver in the featherweight category. Both Samuel Mbugua (lightweight) and Dick ‘Tiger’ Murungu (welterweight) got a bronze each.
In Los Angeles in 1984, Kenya only won three medals, gold in the 3,000m steeplechase through Julius Korir and a bronze from Mike Musyoki in the 10,000m while flyweight Ibrahim Bilali took the silver in boxing
In Seoul four years later, Kenya went all out and amassed five gold, two silver and three bronze medals. The gold medals came through Paul Ereng (800m), Peter Rono (1,500m), John Ngugi (5,000m), Julius Kariuki (3,000m steeplechase) and Robert Wangila (welterweight) in boxing.
Peter Koech (3,000m Steeplechase) and marathoner Douglas Wakiihuri won silver with Kipkemboi Kimeli settling for bronze in the 10,000m. Middleweight Chris Sande won bronze, the last that Kenya has won in boxing. The amateur team, “Hit Squad”, has since lost its sting.
Four years later in Barcelona, it was only William Tanui (800m) and Matthew Birir (3,000m steeplechase) who won gold. Richard Chelimo (10000m), Paul Bitok (5,000m), Nixon Kiprotich (800m) and Patrick Sang (3,000m Steeplechase) took silver while Samson Kitur (400m) and William Mutwol (3,000m steeplechase) secured a bronze each.
In Atlanta in 1996, only Joseph Keter won gold in steeplechase with Paul Tergat (10,000m), Paul Bitok (5,000), Pauline Konga (5,000m) and Moses Kiptanui (3,000m Steeplechase) got silver. Fred Onyancha (800m), Stephen Kipkorir (1,500m), Erick Wainaina (marathon) clinched bronze medals.
However, in Sydney in 2000, only Noah Ngeny (1,500m) and Reuben Kosgei (3,000m steeplechase) triumphed to take gold. But the silver went to Paul Tergat (10,000m), Erick Wainaina (marathon) and Wilson Boit Kipketer (3,000m steeplechase). Joyce Chepchumba (marathon) and Bernard Lagat (1,500m) got bronze.
In Athens eight years ago, Ezekiel Kemboi was the only gold medallist. Bernard Lagat, now an American citizen (1,500m), Brimin Kiprop (3,000m steeplechase) and Isabella Ochichi (5,000m) were silver medallists while Eliud Kipchoge (5,000m) and Paul Kipsiele Koech took bronze.
In Beijing four years ago, Kenya went a gear up to showcase its best talent and was rewarded with a position 15, the best in Africa, out of the 204 countries that paraded their athletes at the Bird’s Nest Stadium. That was cemented with Wanjiru's final run that saw Kenyan national anthem being played as the final event before the curtains came down. In total, Kenya had won 14 medals — six gold, four silver and four bronze.
Despite the rich history in sports, only two disciplines — athletics and boxing — have earned Kenya Olympics medals. However, it is in track competitions that the country has excelled.
After the conclusion of the Beijing Olympics, Kenya’s complete medals tally over the years stands at 17 gold, 24 silver and 20 bronze. From athletics, the country’s national anthem has been played 16 times and only once for boxing in Seoul in 1988.
The closest Kenyan runners came to winning marathon gold was in Seoul in 1988 and 2000 in Sydney, when Douglas Wakiihuri and Eric Wainaina claimed silver respectively. No Kenyan woman had ever won a gold medal before the Beijing Olympics.
It took Kenya 52 years to break the jinx.
An eighteen-year old 800m sensation Pamela Jelimo and Nancy Jabot Lagat (1,500m) won gold in Beijing. To cap it all, Samuel Wanjiru won Kenya’s first ever marathon gold at the close of the games. Before Beijing, Kenya’s greatest medal haul was in Seoul, where welterweight Robert Wangila won Kenya’s first non-athletics gold medal.
World 3,000m steeplechase champion Brimin Kaput picked Kenya’s first gold. Later, a then 18-year-old Jelimo wrote new history for the country as she won the women’s 800m fold in 1:54.87 a new junior world record ahead of then World champion Janet Jepkosgei, who took silver.
Team captain Wilfred Bungei retired from international competition by winning gold in 800m with world champion Alfred Kirwa Yego taking bronze.
Nancy Jebet Langat surprised many when she claimed gold in the women’s 1,500m. But the last honour went to Samuel Wanjiru as he pulled away from the rest of the leading pack with 10km to go to win the first ever gold in marathon. Wanjiru set a new Olympic record time of 2:06:32.
Kenya finished top in Africa with 14 medals (five gold, five silver and four bronze) ahead of Ethiopia (four gold, one silver two bronze), Zimbabwe (one gold three silver), Cameroon and Tunisia, each with one gold medal.
Overall ranking saw Kenya finishing in position 15. Hosts China had 98 medals (50 gold, 20 silver, 28 bronze). United States were second with 108 medals (gold 35, silver 37, bronze 36) while Russia had 72 medals (gold 23, silver 21 and bronze 28).
Past winners –
1964 800m Men Wilson Kiprugut 1:45.9 BRONZE
1968 800m Men Wilson Kiprugut 1:44.5 SILVER
1968 1500m Men Kipchoge Keino 3:34.9 GOLD
1968 5000m Men Kipchoge Keino 14:05.2 SILVER
1968 5000m Men Naftali Temu 14:06.4 BRONZE
1968 10000m Men Naftali Temu 29:27.4 GOLD
1968 3000m SC Men Amos Biwott 8:51.0 GOLD
1968 3000m SC Men Benjamin Kogo 8:51.6 SILVER
1968 4x400m Relay Men Charles Asati 2:59.6 SILVER
1968 4x400m Relay Men Naftali Bon 2:59.6 SILVER
1968 4x400m Relay Men Hezekiah Nyamau 2:59.6 SILVER
1968 4x400m Relay Men Daniel Rudisha 2:59.6 SILVER
1972 400m Men Julius Sang 44.92 BRONZE
1972 800m Men Mike Boit 1:46.0 BRONZE
1972 1500m Men Kipchoge Keino 3:36.8 SILVER
1972 3000m SC Men Kipchoge Keino 8:23.6 GOLD
1972 3000m SC Men Ben Jipcho 8:24.6 SILVER
1972 4x400m Relay Men Charles Asati 2:59.8 GOLD
1972 4x400m Relay Men Hezekiah Nyamau 2:59.8 GOLD
1972 4x400m Relay Men Robert Ouko 2:59.8 GOLD
1972 4x400m Relay Men Julius Sang 2:59.8 GOLD
1984 10000m Men Mike Musyoki 28:06.46 BRONZE
1984 3000m SC Men Julius Korir 8:11.80 GOLD
1988 800m Men Paul Ereng 1:43.45 GOLD
1988 1500m Men Peter Rono 3:35.96 GOLD
1988 5000m Men John Ngugi 13:11.70 GOLD
1988 10000m Men Kipkemboi Kimeli 27:25.16 BRONZE
1988 Marathon Men Douglas Wakiihuri 2:10:47 SILVER
1988 3000m SC Men Julius Kariuki 8:05.51 GOLD
1988 3000m SC Men Peter Koech 8:06.79 SILVER
1992 400m Men Samson Kitur 44.24 BRONZE
1992 800m Men William Tanui 1:43.66 GOLD
1992 800m Men Nixon Kiprotich 1:43.70 SILVER
1992 5000m Men Paul Bitok 13:12.71 SILVER
1992 10000m Men Richard Chelimo 27:47.72 SILVER
1992 3000m SC Men Matthew Birir 8:08.84 GOLD
1992 3000m SC Men Patrick Sang 8:09.55 SILVER
1992 3000m SC Men William Mutwol 8:10.74 BRONZE
1996 800m Men Fred Onyancha 1:42.79 BRONZE
1996 1500m Men Stephen Kipkorir 3:36.72 BRONZE
1996 5000m Men Paul Bitok 13:08.16 SILVER
1996 10000m Men Paul Tergat 27:08.17 SILVER
1996 Marathon Men Erick Wainaina 2:12:44 BRONZE
1996 3000m SC Men Joseph Keter 8:07.12 GOLD
1996 3000m SC Men Moses Kiptanui 8:08.33 SILVER
1996 5000m Women Pauline Konga 15:03.49 SILVER
2000 1500m Men Noah Ngeny 3:32.07 GOLD
2000 1500m Men Bernard Lagat 3:32.44 BRONZE
2000 10000m Men Paul Tergat 27:18.9 SILVER
2000 Marathon Men Erick Wainaina 2:10:31 SILVER
2000 3000m SC Men Reuben Kosgei 8:21.43 GOLD
2000 3000m SC Men Wilson Boit Kipketer 8:21.77 SILVER
2000 Marathon Women Joyce Chepchumba 2:24:45 BRONZE
2004 1500m Men Bernard Lagat 3:34.30 SILVER
2004 5000m Men Eliud Kipchoge 13:15.10 BRONZE
2004 3000m SC Men Ezekiel Kemboi 8:05.81 GOLD
2004 3000m SC Men Brimin Kiprop 8:06.11 SILVER
2004 3000m SC Men Paul Kipsiele Koech 8:06.64 BRONZE
2004 Marathon Women Catherine Ndereba 2:26:32 SILVER
2004 5000m Women Isabella Ochichi 14:48.19 SILVER
2008 800m Women Pamela Jelimo 1:54.87 GOLD
2008 800m Women Wilfred Bungei 1:44.65 GOLD
2008 1,500m Women Nancy Jebet 4:00.23 GOLD
2008 3,000m SC Brimin Kipruto 8:10.34 GOLD
2008 marathon Men Samuel Wanjiru 2:06:32 GOLD
2008 800m Women Janeth Jepkosgei 1:56.07 SILVER
2008 1,500m Men Asbel Kiprop 3:33.11 SILVER
2008 3,000mSC Women Eunice Jepkorir 9:07.41 SILVER
2008 5,000m Men Eliud Kipchoge 13:02.80 SILVER
2008 marathon Women Catherine Ndereba 2:27:06 SILVER
2008 800m Men Alfred Kirwa 1:44.82 BRONZE
2008 3,000m SC Men Richard Mateelong 8:11.01 BRONZE
2008 5,000mMen Edwin Soi 13:06.22 BRONZE
2008 10,000m Micah Kogo 27:04.11 BRONZE
1968 Featherweight Philip Waruinge BRONZE
1972 Featherweight Philip Waruinge SILVER
1972 Lightweight Samuel Mbugua BRONZE
1972 Welterweight Dick Tiger Murungu BRONZE
1984 Flyweight Ibrahim Bilali BRONZE
1988 Welterweight Robert Wangila GOLD
1988 Middleweight Chris Sande BRONZE