While Plato argued that leaders are born and not made, Likert a member of the behavioral school of thought insisted that leadership can be learnt; therefore leaders are made and not born. Leaders born or made? The argument continues……………
Now I ask, what would these fathers of wisdom or anyone else say about athletes, especially one like Kip Keino? Athletes Born or made? I cannot readily tell, but the truth remains that greatness resides in every man, but the only people who live it out are the ones that have not only recognised it but have also spent time harnessing it.
Kip Keino made it to the class of the first successful middle and long distance runners to come from Kenya. Although retired, he remains a huge authority in Kenya athletics and the chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee (KOC). His journey to purpose was extremely challenging; a trajectory of uncertainties. But courage and hope where the twin forces that led him through.
Growing up in rural Kenya at the time wasn’t exactly what any young lad would wish for. Impoverished, broken, needy; were words that easily defined Kipsamo, Nandi District of kenya where Kip was born in January, 1940. But one man’s fight has continued to change that narrative.
Kip’s resilience even as a child gained him a certain level of independence; through most of his younger years, he made his own clothes from animal skins. He had the responsibility of catering for the family cattle and like most shepherds, he was willing to go the extra mile just to be sure the cattle were safe; which meant hiding and sleeping with the animals each night to help prevent their theft. At age 12, he was able to convince his father to let him attend school, even though he knew what hurdles he had to face. He was ready to face the music and enjoy every bit of it no matter the tempo.
He had to run 8 miles with 12 friends every Monday morning with food and milk on their back for the week and every Friday night, they made a return trip in order to help with family responsibilities and to try to earn a few cents to help pay for school. They found it was safer to run in a pack, to avoid being attacked by Leopards. Those early races may have accounted for the athlete’s eventual swiftness on track. Who knows?
In school, Kip maintained an outstanding record as a pro in multiple sports. After his graduation, he felt a need to serve his father land and so he joined the Kenyan Police Force where he worked diligently as a physical training instructor before becoming an athlete.
Kip’s international sports career began officially at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia where he came eleventh in the three miles. And like fine wine, he got better with the years. In the 1964 Summer Olympics, he finished fifth in 5000 m and barely missed the 1500 m final.
1965 was another year of great wins for the sprinting star, it was the year he lowered the 3000 m world record by over 6 seconds to 7:39.6 at his first attempt at the distance. He won two gold medals (1500 & 5000 metres) at the Inaugural All-Africa Games. And later the same year, he broke the 5000 m world record held by Ron Clarke clocking 13:24.2.
Keino’s most celebrated international victory came at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where, after having to jog a mile to the stadium because the bus from the Olympics Village was stuck in traffic, he won the 1,500 metres with an Olympic record time of 3 mins 34.9 secs. The mark stood until 1984.
He also won the silver medal in the 5,000 metres event despite an acute gallbladder infection. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, West Germany, he won his second Olympic gold medal in the 3,000 metres steeplechase and also won a silver medal in the 1,500 metres before retiring in 1973.
The end of that chapter marked the beginning of a more rewarding and fulfilling one for Kip. Moved by compassion and the desire to change the narrative of their country, the ever shining star and his wife Phyllis purchased a farm in Eldoret, which they converted into an orphanage, the Kip Keino Children’s Home.
“We started with two children, then it went to six, then ten. Now it’s up to 90. We give them shelter and love. Many of these children who lived with us as orphans have gone to university, some are doctors, and when you see them with their own families living well in society, I feel very happy,” he says.
In 2000, Kip also built an elementary school for 300 children and a new high school that will grow from 150 to 300 students. Both schools are recognized as being in the very top of all schools in the entire country.
In 2007, he was made an honorary Doctor of Law by the University of Bristol. This was after he was awarded an honorary degree by Egerton University in Nakuru. In July 2012 he received further recognition from the City of Bristol after the Kenyan Olympic Committee, under his presidency, made Bristol the training base for its athletes in preparation for theLondon 2012 Olympics.
He was also awarded freedom of the City by Bristol City Council, making him the first to receive this honour from Bristol since Sir Winston Churchill.
Thank you Kip Keino for giving to Africa.