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From Tokyo to Tokyo: How Kiprugut started off Kenya’s medal haul

Saturday January 4 2020

Legendary athlete Wilson Kiprugut arap Chumo displays some of his medals during the interview at his Kericho home on October 24, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |

Legendary athlete Wilson Kiprugut arap Chumo displays some of his medals during the interview at his Kericho home on October 24, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA |  NATION MEDIA GROUP

BERNARD ROTICH
By BERNARD ROTICH
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This summer, Kenya returns to Tokyo for the Olympic Games with fond memories of the first Games in the Japanese capital 56 years ago.

At the 1964 Games, Wilson Kiprugut Chumo opened the floodgates with Kenya’s first Olympic medal – a bronze in the 880 yards race (now 800 metres in the metric system).

But Kenya had made her debut at the 1956 Games in Melbourne, but it was at the 64’ Games in Tokyo that the country first competed as an independent nation.

Kiprugut’s medal opened the way for other Kenyans to do well in various races, a trend that has been going on to date, and which shall continue, hopefully, at the July 24 to August 9 Games in Tokyo.

Nation Sport embarked on a journey to find out how the legend, based in Kericho, and who flew the Kenyan flag high in the immediate post-independence era is faring.

As you arrive Kericho town, which is the headquarters of Kericho County, one is welcomed with good serene and fresh air thanks to the tea plantations surrounding the town.

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And next to Kipsigis Girls High School, the aging legend Kiprugut lives in a two-bedroom house on a four-acre farm surrounded by tea plantations with two of his sons living next to him.

We are ushered into a two-bedroom house where we find Kiprugut seating waiting for us after his son had informed him that he will have visitors.

He has donned in a red jacket, normally won by the Kenyan sports teams travelling for various events outside the country.

As we settle down for the interview, his grandson, Felix Kipkurui, a third year student at Masinde Muliro University, joins us in case we need interpretation from the old man.

The house is decorated with pictures of past races he participated in with a certificate of appreciation from Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (now Athletics Kenya) in one corner.

He also has medals tugged in one of the boxes in his house as the only thing that reminds him of how he brought glory in the country.

He used the savings he got from his work to buy the land and build a permanent house at a time he says they used to run and represent the country with no rewards.

“I used my own savings from the Kenya Army to build this house because we were not rewarded when representing our country during the championships,” says the former athlete.

Born in August, 1941 in Kinamget, Ainamoi, Kericho County, Kiprugut went to Kaptebeswet Primary School up to class four before joining Sitotwet Primary School up to standard seven where he graduated in 1958.

In 1959, he was recruited by King’s African Rifles (now Kenya Defence Forces) where he served before embarking on serious training as he sharpened his skills in the athletics field.

He went back to athletics training hard and in 1962 he was in the 4x440 yards team who represented Kenya in the Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia, a team that comprised of Peter Francis, Seraphino Antao and Kimaru Sonkok, where they emerged fifth.

Kiprugut continued with his participation in various competitions including East Africa Games where he was beaten by one Kiptalam Arap Keter from Kapsabet in Nandi County.

He was selected to represent Kenya in the 1964 Olympics Games where he says that it was one of his best outings.

“When I was selected to represent Kenya, it was a dream come true because I knew my life was going to change. I was in good shape and I was going for the win but things changed when I was hit by one of the athletes.”

“During the last lap, a Jamaican George Kerr tried to push me that I almost lost my stability. I still blame him because I bagged bronze yet I was in good position to win a gold medal,” said the former athlete.

In 1965, Kiprugut bagged two gold medals in the 400m and 800m races at the inaugural of All African Games held in Brazzaville, Congo.

In 1966, he participated in the Commonwealth Games held in Kingston, Jamaica, and won another bronze medal in the 880 yards.

During the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico, he bagged a silver medal before retiring from active athletics and settled as a coach in the army until 1974, when he finally retired from the force.

He urges the government to remember the legends who used to run and represent the country by rewarding them because they made the country proud.

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