Kenya at the Olympics – 800m Medals
800ms Olympics Race – Where Stars are Born
It’s anybody’s guess the outcome of the 800m at the Olympics Games where so many nations have thrown in spiffing runners over the years. The United States and the United Kingdom utterly dominated the first sixty years of the 800m at the games. Gold went to the United Kingdom in 1886 and 1900, then to USA in 1904, 08 and 12, back to the U.K again in 1920, 24, 28 and 32 before finally the wheel turned back to the USA, which won gold in 1936, 40, 44, 48 and in 52.
African countries made little headway in the 800m event anterior to the bronze medal won by Kenya’s Wilson Kiprugut at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. It is since this period that we have electrifying chronicles of winning the event. At the following Olympics in Mexico City (1968), on the up and up, Wilson Kiprugut went one better to bag the silver medal for Kenya at the Munich Games. Mike Boit won bronze in the race, making him only the second African to win a medal at the 800m. The winning momentum was silenced in 1976 (Montreal), 1980 (Moscow) and 1984 (Los Angeles). After this, all newcomers to 800m, including Paul Ereng, faced the formidable Europeans – as America seemed to be losing its running legs at the 800ms – with fervour, hoping to make a name for Africa.
Indeed, Paul Ereng’s performance at the 1988 Seoul Games was nothing if not spectacular. Nixon Kiprotich, the other Kenyan at the race, had gone hard from the start, challenging the Brazilians José Luiz Barbosa and Joaquim Cruz who looked indomitable. At the bell, Ereng, the unknown Kenyan, was second from last, and in no hurry to make his presence felt. He sprung into action after the final bend on the home stretch, vehemently scurrying out of nowhere to stun the field. Kiprotich finished last. Four years later in Barcelona (1992), William Tanui followed in the footsteps of Ereng, taking gold, while Nixon Kiprotich settled for silver. There was a 16 years hiatus in winning the 800m after Kenya failed to bags medals in 1996 (Atlanta), 2000 (Sydney) and in 2004 (Athens), before Wilfred Bungei put Kenya back to its winning way at Beijing Games in 2008. Alfred Kirwa Yego deservedly won silver in that event. Next in line to carry the mantle was David Rudisha, one of those gifted athletes who are the face of sports in Kenya, who convincingly took gold in London (2012) and also defended it in Rio 2016; becoming the fourth runner to successfully defend his title at the event. In 2010, David Rudisha, then aged 21, made history by setting a new world record in the 800-meters, clocking 1:41.09, to edge off the previous record of 1:41:11 recorded by Wilson Kosgei Kipketer, that had stood since 1997.
The women 800m medal is among those elusive for Kenya in the track and field events of the Olympic. It was first achieved at Beijing Games in 2008, in superb style, when Pamela Chelimo won gold and Janet Chepkosgei took silver – two of only three medals Kenya has won at the event. In June 2007, Chelimo had finished fifth in the 400 metres race at the Kenyan Championships with a time of 55.82 seconds, and kept improving, winning the 400m event at the African Junior Championship in the same year. Jelimo ran her first 800 metres race on 19 April 2008 at the Kenyan trials for the African championships, clocking 2:01.02 minutes. Aged only 18, she set a new African Junior Championship best time, before winning 800 metres at the Hengelo Grand Prix event and setting a new Junior World Record of 1:55.76, in April 2008. Heading to Beijing, she had won four consecutive IAAF Golden League meets and looking sharp for gold, and did not disappoint. Remarkably, Chelimo went on to win her next two IAAF Golden League races, becoming the only athlete in that series of the league to win all six events. Janet Chepkosgei, her compatriot, made her breakthrough in 2006 when she won the women’s 800 m event at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Later that year she won the 800m gold at the African Championships. Post the Beijing Games she won gold in the World Championship 800 m final in Osaka, becoming the first female Kenyan middle distance runner to achieve gold over 800 m. The only other medal in the 800m events at the Olympics won by a Kenyan came at the Rio Games in 2016, where Margaret Wanjiru muddled through a star studded lineup that ran a grinding race, to win bronze for Kenya.
Unexpected Surprises at the Olympics
The other sports disciplines where Kenya has been represented at the Olympics include field hockey, judo, shooting, weightlifting and wrestling. Be that as it may, Kenya has been unlucky that no medal has been won in all these sports. However, it’s worth noting that field hockey, where Kenya has had creditable performances, declined to the last position in 1988 and never qualified for the games thereafter. Formerly, Kenya was rather exceptional at producing top-tier boxers: Philip Waruinge winning gold in the Men’s featherweight at the 1968 Mexico Games and silver in the 1972 Munich Games; Samuel Mbugua and Dick Murunga both winning bronze medal in men’s lightweight and men’s flyweight respectively at the 1972 Munich Games; and who can forget Robert Wangila’s performance in Seoul (1988) where he won gold in the welterweight. Other rare medals include Julius Yego’s silver medal at the men’s javelin in Rio Olympics.
- Kenya at the Olympics – An Overview and All-time Medal Table
- 11 Kenyan Gold Medals in the 3,000m Olympic Steeplechase
- Kenya’s Olympic Marathon History – A Long Time in the Waiting
- Kenya’s Performance in the Olympic 5,000m & 10,000m Event
- Kenya’s Heroes and Heroines in the 800m Olympic Events