Dream deferred for Tokyo Olympics legend Kiprugut

Wednesday March 25 2020

Kenya was set to return to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Games this July, 56 years after the Japanese capital last hosted the Games.

The year 1964 also marked the first time Kenya competed at the Olympics as an independent country.

The postponement of this year’s Summer Games due to the global coronavirus pandemic means that despite the full circle moment being delayed, the Games are still very much on.

Wilson Kiprugut Chumo, the man who bagged Kenya’s first ever Olympic medal at the Tokyo 1964 Games, chooses to look at the monumental decision through those rose-coloured glasses.

“People’s lives are better than all the medals combined. It’s better to postpone (the 2020 Olympics) than risk infection to athletes and thousands of fans,” the 82-year-old says.

Kiprugut’s cautious optimism doesn’t hide the excitement that lays bare at the mention of the Japanese capital. Clearly, Tokyo still holds a special place in the Olympian’s heart.


Kenya had made her Olympics debut in 1956 in Australia, but it was on the Japanese national stadium track eight years later that a 26-year-old Kiprugut was hoping to give the country its first Olympics medal as an independent republic.

However, his race didn’t go according to plan. “A Jamaican athlete (George Kerr) kept pushing me to go in front,” he illustrates animatedly.

“Eventually, I lost balance and fell.”

The Kenyan recovered from the stumble and settled for a bronze in the 880 yards, now known as the 800m, behind Kiwi legend Peter Snell and Canada’s William Crothers.

It was a medal that opened the floodgates for Kenya’s track dominance in succeeding Summer Games.

Despite the Olympics postponement, Kiprugut remains optimistic the 800m world record set by David Rudisha — son of Kiprugut’s former training partner the late Daniel Rudisha — will remain in Kenya.

It was good to see Rudisha Jr follow in the footsteps of his father, hopefully the gold stays (in Kenya),” the father of nine anticipates.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the sports industry hardest. Despite this being the first time the Olympics have been delayed in their 124-year modern era history, they were cancelled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 due to the first and second World Wars.

Nonetheless, a new generation will return to Japan next year, almost 60 years since Kenya took part in the first Tokyo Olympics, seeking to continue the glory.