Portrait of a Badass

I start at the Mexico Olympics of 1968. Kipchoge ‘Kip’ Keino, aged 28, was entered in three events, the 10,000, 5,000 and 1,500 metres, something out of the question nowadays.

He was unwell throughout the Games; indeed the German team doctor believed he had gallstones, and that running would endanger him. Run he did, however, and in the 10,000 metres, he was in the lead with a lap to go, when he collapsed, staggering off the track. The race was won by fellow Kenyan Naftali Temu, who thus became the first from his nation ever to win Olympic Gold. Kip was determined to finish, and though disqualified already for leaving the track, got to his feet and completed the distance.

Four days later, Kip was in action again and he took Olympic silver in the 5,000 metres, narrowly losing out in a thrilling finish. He qualified for the final of the 1,500 metres, but still unwell, he was put to bed and told not to run again. On the day of the final, he stayed in bed, but about an hour before the race, he got up, took his kit, and boarded a bus, determined to take part, even if it killed him.  The bus became stuck in traffic, so Kip, already late, alighted and ran two miles to the stadium, just in time to register for the race.

His main rival, Jim Ryun, undefeated for three years, possessed a renowned finish. Kip countered this by setting a searing pace from the start, such that he burned off all opposition, somehow holding form to the finish to win his first Olympic gold in a new Olympic record time, with Ryun 20 metres back in second place. The doctor took Kip back to Germany straight after the Games and removed the gall stones.