By Prudence Minayo
When it comes to athletics, the spotlight has always been focused on Kenya. The country is known for producing record breaking athletes with Eliud Kipchoge currently reigning as the greatest marathon runner of all time.
However, Kenyans did not always dominate at the Olympics. It took eight years of participating at the biggest stage in athletics for Kenya to win its first medal. The country first participated in the Olympics in 1956 but it was not until 1964 that the country won its first medal. Wilson Kiprugut Chumo was the man who paved the way for Kenyans to begin dominating athletics. He not only became the first Kenyan but also the first African to win a medal (bronze) during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. For the first time, the Kenyan flag was flown high at the Olympics as Wilson broke out in tears of joy.
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“To bag a bronze medal back then was no mean feat as we lacked proper training facilities, professional coaches and even running shoes,” he would later say.
The retired athlete was born in 1938 and grew up in Kericho. He attended Kabtebeswet Primary School followed by Sitotwet Intermediate School. He began developing his running skills while still in school. His talent caught the attention of many when he won three 880 yards titles at the East and Central African Championships. During the competition, he was spotted by army scouts and recruited to African Rifles. After completing training as an army officer, he went back to training on the tracks.
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In 1962, he was part of the commonwealth games where the Kenyan team came fifth. He led the 4×440 yards and believes they would have won some medals if some team members hadn’t become ill on the journey to Perth, Australia
Wilson Kiprugut Chumo then participated in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where he came third in the 800m race and failed to reach the final at the 400m race. He recounted how he was so happy about winning Kenya’s first medal. All eyes were on him seeing as he was the first African to accomplish such a feat.
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In 1965, he participated in the Inaugural All Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo. He won two gold medals.
In the 1966 Commonwealth games held in Kingston Jamaica, he came third and won a bronze in the 880 yards.
In the 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico, he won a silver medal while Nabiba Naftali Temu won Kenya its first ever gold medal at the Olympics. That year also marked the end of Kiprugut’s career as a professional athlete.
After leaving athletics, he worked as a fitness trainer in the army until his retirement in 1974.
He then settled in his hometown in Kericho where he lives to date and makes a living through farming.
In 2010, he won Kenyan Sports Personality of the Year Award and was inducted to the Hall of Fame. He was also awarded a trophy and token cash 8 years ago during Mashujaa day celebrations.
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