skip to content
20 Oct 1968
Mexico 1968

Keino triumphs in 1,500m to signal dawn of Kenyan greats

African dominance of distance running started to be seen in Mexico City, where African athletes won at least one medal in every race from 800m onwards. Nowhere did this change become more apparent than in the 1500m.

American Jim Ryun had not been beaten over the distance for three years but was hindered by illness and by the altitude. Instead, an uncoached Nandi tribesman from Kenya, Kip Keino, emerged as a serious contender. He had played rugby union before taking up athletics.

But he, too, had been ill and then ignored doctors' advice to enter the punishing combination of 1500m, 5000m and 10.000m. The toll was too much and Keino collapsed in the 10,000m with just two laps to go. His powers of recovery were formidable, though, and, ignoring the stretcher-bearers who came to help him, he jumped back up to finish the race, even though he knew he had been disqualified.
Just four days later, he recovered to not just run in the 5,000m but to take a silver medal just 0.2secs behind Tunisia's Mohamed Gammoudi.

That left the 1500m. On the day of the final, Keino got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the stadium and decided to jog the last mile of his journey, despite the fatigue that might cause. If he was tired, it certainly didn't show – Keino produced a memorable display of front-running as he took control of the race from beginning to end. Ryun was known for his finishing pace, but he was unable to get near enough to Keino to make it count, and the American wisely settled for silver. Keino had set a blistering pace, and simply maintained it to the end to win by 20 metres – considered the most dominant victory in the history of the event.

Four years later he was to win the steeplechase and silver in the 1500m, before retiring to run a charitable foundation for orphans and abandoned children.

back to top