In the 1980s and 90s, the Armed Forces Athletics Championships was the most competitive meeting on the national athletics calendar, outside the national championships and Olympics or World Championships trials.
The events were meticulously scheduled, of course with military precision, and athletes knew of their race times well ahead of schedule.
That’s why Moses Tanui, a fast-rising distance runner, knew he had plenty of time in his hands ahead of the 10,000 metres final in one of the meetings.
But as he was munching away his lunch, with his race programmed for later that day, Tanui, and fellow 10,000m runners, were suddenly called to the track, not even pre-race call room. And the order had come from no lesser person than the Commander-in-Chief, Daniel arap Moi!
“We were seated in one corner having snacks because our race was later in the afternoon, and we suddenly saw a commotion at the dais. We didn’t know what was going on and went on with our bite,” recalls Tanui.
They later realised President Moi had arrived and wanted to watch the 10,000m race.
This was after the Head of State had read the day’s newspaper sports headline, one of which yelled: “Fireworks expected in 10,000m race in Nyayo Stadium.”
With Tanui along with legends Paul Kipkoech and Some Muge on the start list, everyone wanted to watch this race.
“We were called immediately to compete without warming up because Moi wanted to watch the race. I remember the first 5,000m was very slow because we had just had snacks, but the second part was fast and competitive and I won the race,” narrated Tanui in Eldoret on Saturday. Such was President Moi’s passion for the sport.
“I want to send my condolences to the family of the former president,” Tanui said as he watched live proceedings of Saturday’s public viewing of Mzee Moi’s body beamed from Nairobi.
“Indeed, he has left a mark which many of us left behind should emulate because he was patriotic to his country,” said Tanui.
He also remembers a time when Kenya suffered a drought, and they asked Mzee Moi if athletes from the forces could donate food to the affected areas.
AWARDED MERCEDES BENZ CARS
The president was quick to invite them to State House, Nakuru.
“He told us sharing with those who don’t have is the way to go,” added Tanui, who paid tribute to the former president for building two world class stadiums which has been of good use since the 1980’s to date.
At the 1993 IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, three Kenyans won gold medals and there was no cash prize, but the winners were awarded Mercedes Benz cars which were handed over to them by President Moi.
Moses Kiptanui (3,000m steeplechase), Ismail Kirui (5,000m) and Paul Ruto (800m) all bagged gold with Moses Tanui settling for silver in the 10,000m race.
Tanui also said that the late retired president Moi also travelled to the World Championships in Rome, Italy in 1987 to watch the 10,000m finals where the late Paul Kipkoech won the race which was a big honour.
Personal best times:
1,500m: 3:41.8 (Nairobi, 15 SEP 1989)
2,000m: 5:03.7 (Köln 18 AUG 1995)
3,000m: 7:39.63 (Köln, 18 AUG 1995)
5,000m: 13:17.80 (Sevilla, 06 JUN 1992)
10,000m: 27:18.32 (Bruxelles, 03 SEP 1993)
Half Marathon: 59:47 (Milano, 03 APR 1993)
Marathon: 2:06:16 (Chicago, 24 OCT 1999)
Gold: 10,000m: 27:38.74 (Tokyo, 1991)
Silver: 10,000m: 27:46.54 (Stuttgart, 1993)
World Half Marathon Championships:
Gold: 1:01:45 (Belfort, 01 OCT 1995)
Silver: 59:58 (Košice, 04 OCT 1997)