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Legendary runner gives brief reflection into the life of Mzee Kenyatta

Emmanuel Masinde @baromeo

Kenya’s all-time athletics great Kipchoge Keino is one of the few sporting personalities to have shared close moments with the Founding Father of the Nation, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

The retired police officer had a rare rapport with Kenya’s first President both in and outside the sports arena, during and after the colonial rule.

In the pre-independence day when Kenyatta was incarcerated at both Kapenguria and Maralal detention centres, Keino was one of the most trusted General Service Unit (GSU) officers by Kenyatta at the two centres. However, outside his success on the athletics track, little is known about the relationship between the man from Nandi County and the departed Kenyatta.

Keino, who has dedicated his life to sports and rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty around at local and international arenas, was born 80 years ago in Nandi Hills. Last week, he recounted his life and times to People Sport.

“As a police officer, I was at Kapenguria and then Maralal with Kenya’s Founding Father, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. It was great for me to meet with Kenyatta whom we bonded very well. From Kapenguria, he was later transferred to Maralal detention where I interacted with political leaders who came to visit him at Kapenguria and Maralal,” narrated Keino.

He added: “The top leaders included Ronald Ngala, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku and James Gichuru.” Keino, who won his first gold for Kenya during the 1965 All Africa Games, when he won double gold in 5,000m and 1,500m in Congo Brazzaville, was first posted to Kapenguria where he met and bonded with Kenyatta.

During that camaraderie in Kapenguria, Kenyatta was gifted with a goat and sheep by some Turkana tribesmen sympathetic to the cause of freedom struggle he was spearheading.

Keino beats the favoured Jim Ryun in the 1968 Olympic Games in 1,500m, the first chapter in Kenya’s success story in distance running. Photo/COURTESY

“As Kenyatta was later airlifted to Lokitaung in Maralal, I was mandated to ensure his presents were safely devolved to him at his new detention camp.

I remember those days very well. Kenyatta liked me very much.

Much later when he was Head of State, he even conferred on me the Distinguished Service Medal,” remembers the two-time Commonwealth Games champion. At Lokitaung, Keino recalls when Kenyatta called him and asked him if it was possible to view Mount Kenya from his detention camp, to which a submissive officer responded in the affirmative.

That evening, Kenyatta told him to wake him up so that he could go out to see Mount Kenya as he himself went out to check on the gifts he had brought.

“Most times he called me asking when it was the best time to go and see Mount Kenya, which was most visible. I told him that between 5:30 and 5:45am is when the mountain was very clear, which is the time I always woke him up. He was so happy and touched the grass. He would visit again whenever he wanted,” reminisces Keino.

The runner remembers more: “I stayed with him until he was released from detention before travelling to his Gatundu home. When he was released, I rejoined Kiganjo Police Training College. Soon after this, I was promoted. At the police, I was involved in serious training. I travelled to various parts of the world for advanced training in Physical Education and Mountain Rescue Operations. That made me more exposed to the world.”

When Kenya gained independence, Keino took athletics seriously and won various medals for the country as team captain. “During those days, Mzee used to welcome us to State House not just as a team but as a friend,” recalls Keino.

Due to their close relationship, the octogenarian was awarded Order of the Burning Spear. He said during his heyday, athletes used to run for the country and not for money as is the case today.

“There was no money to win but prizes like blankets, shoes or if you are a student, you were given a pen,” remembers Keino.

“It was a blow to us athletes because the president was a man who loved sports and was working hard to ensure we prosper in all disciplines like football, rugby, netball and many more,” recounted Keino.

He stated: “Throughout my career, whenever I broke an athletics record, I was given a promotion. By the time I left, I held the rank of Chief Inspector. Kenyatta was a good leader who could talk very well. I remember bringing him his coat and shirt from Kapenguria to his Gatundu home.”

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