Kenya’s First Olympic Medalist
In his Kipchebor village home in the outskirts of Kericho town, 79 year old Mzee Kiprugut Chumo recalls how he brought Kenya and Africa, the first Olympic medal in Tokyo Japan in 1964.
The aging Chumo says that he had all along remained determined to bring Kenya a medal in his favourite event, the 880 yards. He tried unsuccessfully in Melbourne, Australia in 1956 and Rome, 1960.
Chumo, who had been recruited to the King’s African Rifles (KAR) in 1959 by virtue of his athletics talent, had attended the Seventh British and Commonwealth games in 1962 in Perth, Australia as part of Kenyan contingent in the 440 yards relay team. Kenya came fifth.
“In the Perth athletics, Kenya’s Seraphino Antao won two gold medals in 110 yards and 220 yards,” said Chumo. Little known Antao came from Mombasa.
Kiprugut said in the semis in Tokyo in 1964, he broke the 880 yards Olympic record clocking 1:46.01 and knew he would win gold in the finals.
“However that was not to be as things turned a bit nasty as some athletes intentionally tripped others while some elbowed their competitors, especially the strong ones, out of the race,” he said.
Chumo said although he was also elbowed several times, he managed to get Kenya the bronze.
“In the competitive race, Peter Snell of New Zealand won the gold timing 1:45.1 followed by Canadian Bill Crothers (1:45.6) and I came a close third timing 1:45.9,” said the athlete.
Chumo was Kenya’s team captain in the first All Africa Games held in Congo Brazzaville in 1965 where he and his relay teammates won a silver medal.
He represented Kenya in Helsinki, Finland world games but did not win a medal. However, in Kingston, Jamaica in 1966, he won a silver medal in 880 yards.
Chumo was invited to the 1972 Munich Olympic as an honored Olympian. In 1974 he was promoted in his military job to the Kahawa Garrisons Transport Battalion from where he retired in 1974.
Kiprugut Chumo was born in 1938 near Kipgigis Girls Secondary School in Kericho to the late Mzee arap Cheptelmet and mama Tapketweet.
In his early youth, Chumo says he used to run daily to Kaptebeswet Primary School about 15 kilometres from his home every morning and evening. This, he said, shaped his body and mind to later become one of the renowned athletes in the country.
“Whenever I was sent on an errand, I would always run. You would rarely see me walking unless I am in a group,” Chumo said with his characteristic chuckle.
Chumo is married to Mama Ruth Chumo and they are blessed with eight children, Sarah, Samuel, Emily, Tony, Erick, Beatrice, Josephine and Gideon.
The almost six feet tall Chumo encouraged the youth to nurture talents saying sporting is a commercial enterprise today.
He is still, however, waiting for the Kericho County Government to name the Kericho Green Stadium after him as he had been promised by the county management.
It is sad that not even one of Kericho town’s streets is named after this unsung hero who brought the first Olympic medal to Kenya and African at large.
By Moses Marta