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16 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968
Mexico 1968

Inimitable Biwott beats his own path to steeplechase gold

Dick Fosbury's innovation in the world of jumping had stunned the world, but he was not the only person whose style shocked his sport. These were the Games of new ideas, and stunning victories and Amos Biwott of Kenya produced both in the 3000m steeplechase.

Biwott had taken up the sport on a whim. He wanted to represent Kenya in either the 5000m or the 10,000m but was not selected for either event. Instead, having finished fourth in a 10,000m race in a provincial championship, he put his name down for the steeplechase that afternoon. He finished second and was asked to take part in the national championship. He won that, and found himself picked for the Olympics on the back of having run the event twice in his life. In the East African championships, still learning the event, he came second. Consistency was paramount.

Steeplechase had a tactical approach shared by almost all athletes. Steady, pacy running on the track, traditional hurdling and, when it came to the water hazard, a jump on to the barrier, then a leap through the water. Consistency was paramount.
And then there was Biwott. He would normally sprint off much faster than the rest of the field and leave the rest of the bemused athletes bunched together. He went over the hurdles with feet together and, perhaps most unusual of all, he would sometimes hop on to the steeplechase barrier – known as the hedge – and then hop off again, landing on the same foot and clearing the water as if he were a triple-jumper. On a couple of occasions, he seemed jumped over the entire hedge and water in one gigantic leap.

In his semi-final, he sprinted off, leaving his rivals confused, and held on to win by 11.6secs. But for some reason he changed his tactics for the final, surprising the other athletes once more. This time he stuck with the pack until there were 50 metres to go, at which point he produced a memorable sprint finish, to leave his rivals standing. He won by three metres.

He was the only person to finish either race with dry feet, having not once entered the water after the hedge. Unlike the pathfinding Fosbury, though, Biwott's tactics have rarely been followed by others!

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