I used to wake up in the middle of the night with black faces laughing at me. I still wake up with black faces laughing at me. But now they have gold medals around their necks, medals I have never won.
—Ron Clarke, the Australian distance runner, after having been beaten by the Kenyan runners Kipchoge Keino and Naftali Temu in separate races at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, August 1966.
The peril you encounter when attempting to assay the progress of a five-year-old "emerged" nation is that you become so wrapped up in the way it is, baby, that you overlook the way it was short years ago; you become so frustrated by minor irritations ("Sorry, but that is impossible" is the common denominator for any problem out of the ordinary in most of Africa) that you forget the veneer of civilization is still thin there, and this distorts the longer, more promising view. And then there is the other extreme, where you are so taken by the ideals of nation building that you abandon objectivity entirely and rally round the flag.
That the epidermis of Kenya is blotchy with change is hardly news. The lover of Africa the way it was in romantic text can still sit by a campfire in the Amboseli Game Reserve and watch the zebra and wildebeest play and the afternoon clouds come to lay hold on the lovely white neck of Kilimanjaro. He can still sit at tea under the thorn tree on the veranda of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi and watch, with idle envy, the pink, self-conscious Americans in their starchy new safari outfits loading up for a woof in the bush with Ker, Downey & Selby's white hunters. Or, if he has a mind to, he can amuse himself with the knowledge that the El Molo tribe still claims to be descendants of fish, and the Masai still raid the Kikuyu for wives.
But the chances are when he passes through the tiny village of Namanga on the Tanzanian border on his way to Kilimanjaro he will have himself an ice-cold Pepsi-Cola at the Shell service station there and pay a couple shillings' tribute for an ocher-smeared Masai to pose with a spear. And when he is out poking the nose of his rented car into a pride of lions lazing in the grass at the Nairobi National Park, he will see on that particular horizon the superstructure of the Belle Vue Drive-In theater just over the fence. (There will probably be four or five more rented cars there, too, nosing in on the lions like a circle of sniffing dogs, the lions royally ignoring them, except, perhaps, to think, "Damn tourists.")
Then, gradually, he will become aware of the more pertinent changes. Recently I lay in bed through the supper hour at the New Stanley to listen as the Voice of Kenya radio presented a lively up-to-date debate on the value of having one wife over many. The debaters were a European woman and a proud-talking African man. His opening remark was a pearl of practicality: "Bigamy is having one wife too many," he said. "So is monogamy."
Kenyans—34 tribes, 34 tongues—have license to be proud because, under that remarkable old revolutionary, Jomo Kenyatta, they are getting it done on a continent that generally is not. It is a lovely country, Kenya. A nice place to visit. For reference, I would as soon walk the alleys of Nairobi after dark as the main streets of Chicago at high noon. It is only when practicality—in the form of expedience—takes hold completely that the growing pains become evident. Too often, then, with no experience to fall back on, action springs from false pride and uncertainty. "There is no racialism in East Africa," Tom Mboya informed an American television audience last July, but Asians are fleeing Kenya by the planeload, and the mood of the Africans who are pressuring them out is (as expressed by Minister Mboya himself): "Good riddance." The East African magazine Flamingo explains the prejudice this way: Asians resist Africanization, hoard their money, flinch from teaching African understudies their jobs and are reckless drivers.
The day I arrived in Nairobi they were about to have general elections: President Kenyatta's ruling KANU (Kenya African National Union) party against the opposition KPU (Kenya People's Union), headed by Oginga Odinga, Kenyatta's most persistent rival. The KPU put up almost 1,900 candidates. The government immediately put down all but 70, disqualifying them for failing to register properly (names misspelled, t's uncrossed, i's undotted). The KANUs danced in the streets over their sweeping election victory. The implication was clear: old Jomo was 10 years fermenting in British prisons and exile before getting his country off the ground, and he is not having any opposition just now, thank you very much.
That same week the Daily Nation (Nairobi) carried an account of a nightclub manager's arrest in the seacoast town of Malindi after a local official looked in and found no picture of President Kenyatta on the wall behind the bar. This particular picture of Jomo looking hard-eyed and impressive can be seen in almost every hotel and place of business in Kenya. I remember seeing it on the wall of Kipchoge Keino's cottage at the police academy in Kiganjo. When I remarked to a Nation reporter on how the Malindi case, vainglorious as it was, made less sense than the big election coup, the reporter pointed out that the nightclub manager had, after all, been quickly released, that the official's hasty action was a typical case of overzeal. Certainly Kenyatta himself would not have sanctioned such trifling.
So it goes with nation building, but how does it all relate and what does it have to do with the bad dreams that Ron Clarke dreamed two years ago in Jamaica?
Two years ago, and through last year, the runners of Kenya were the talk of the footracing world. They were a new kind of emerging force in Africa—something tangible out of the new social order. Neither well trained nor well equipped by Western standards, with little to go on but their willing (and often bare) feet, they produced, in the remarkably short time since independence in 1963, a platoon of runners who were capable of giving world-class opponents a case of the discouragements.
Kipchoge Keino, a Nandis tribesman with handsome dimples and a mustache, beat Ron Clarke six out of seven races in international meets. He broke world records at 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters. He pushed America's Jim Ryun to a record 1,500 meters in Los Angeles. Keino was a sensation. Drum magazine named him African of the Year. Queen Elizabeth mentioned him in her Christmas message to the Commonwealth. The city of Mombasa unveiled Kipchoge Keino Avenue. The only faults that could be found with him were that he sulked after defeats and the e in his name came before the i. In Kenya he began to appear at receptions with Jomo Kenyatta himself. Said Keino of those meetings: "The president told me, 'When you go off to other places to run, and you win, you win for yourself—but you are Kipchoge of Kenya!' " In a series of flash promotions, Policeman Keino rose from the rank of corporal (1964) to that of chief inspector and moved into a two-bedroom house of quarried stone with a red tile roof and flowers all around.
The Kenyans surrounded their central jewel with others of only slightly lesser water, and the prospect was for a grand haul at the Mexico City Olympics. Not only were the Kenyans good, but they lived at 5,500 feet, and anybody who ever drew a breath of thin air in Mexico City (7,349 feet) knows about the advantage that living at altitude will give a runner at these Olympics. Keino would challenge Ryun at 1,500 meters; he would surely win a gold at 5,000; and he stood a chance for a second at 10,000 meters, conceding that to teammate Naftali Temu. Temu, of the Kisii tribe, had been beating Clarke, too, and others who cared to have a romp with him at six miles or 10,000 meters. For Temu, six miles was a breeze, the exact distance it used to be from home to school, and he always ran home for lunch as a schoolboy and again in the evening to beat the darkness.
There was also Wilson Kiprugut, a soft-spoken army sergeant who lowered the Union Jack and raised Kenya's new flag on Independence Day and won a bronze medal in the 800 meters at Tokyo, Kenya's first Olympic medal. If anything, he had improved with age. Benjamin Kogo, a Kikuyu, had outsteeplechased the great Gaston Roelants in Europe. His times put him third in the world in 1967. Masai Daniel Rudisha was so good a quarter-miler (45.8) that he ranked first in the world among non-Americans. The prospects were growing: other Kenyans were said to be only a drumbeat behind Keino and hard on the heels of Temu, and now some of them wore Adidas spiked shoes. German anthropologists and physiologists rushed into Kenya with their calipers to measure chests and thighs in search of the secrets.
Then it began to go bad. Slowly at first, then all too obviously, like fish left on the dock. By August of this year, when I went to Kenya to see Keino and the others, the glow of high purpose had faded and the Kenyans were a jangling medley of neglected excellence and growing doubts. Performances had steadily fallen off, or there were no performances. Star athletes had taken to skipping meets. Times were poor.
A series of competitions in Scandinavia, success in which might have been the final discouragement for old rival Ron Clarke, was a disaster. In the course of 10 days Clarke beat Keino four times and Temu twice. It was Keino who came home discouraged, his sights considerably lowered. He hinted strongly that he would run in only one event at Mexico City, the 5,000 meters, his pet. "I am only human," he said, a nationshaking conclusion. The Nairobi newspapers began writing what's-happening stories ("What's happening to Kipchoge? Is he burning himself out?") and the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association did not have the answer. Furthermore, its officials considered it bad form to ask. Peter Moll of the Nation tried the hard line. "Don't expect a miracle" in Mexico City, he wrote, and was roundly rebuked as an alarmist.
What, indeed, was happening? Bureaucracy was happening, mainly. False pride was happening. Racialism was happening. To begin with: the sacking of John Velzian, the national coach. Velzian's dismissal was so well couched in new-nation exigencies—always marked by a preoccupation with red tape, petty carping and buck-passing—that it practically went unnoticed, and Velzian himself was left in the dark for weeks. The Nation, which had run a five-part, near-book-length series on Velzian's coaching techniques just the year before, calling him a "dynamic, driving force," chose to keep mum, except for a short squib telling of Charles Mukora's appointment as national coach. Mukora had been Velzian's understudy. He had spent a year in England studying physical education. He had no meaningful, practical coaching experience. Velzian, with two diplomas from English universities, had been coaching in Kenya for 10 years.
The only explanation hinted at was that Velzian had gotten too big for his whistle and was getting more credit than he deserved. Officials denied charges of racialism ("People in Nairobi think it's racialism," said Charles Mbathi, the president of the Kenya AAA, "but it is not"). Mbathi took the position that Velzian was overrated. "John Velzian is not responsible for all Kenya's brilliant athletes," he said. Other officials, though privately sympathetic to Velzian, kept still.
The athletes fell in line. When I asked Keino about Velzian, keeping the question as innocent as possible, Keino said, "How could he be my coach? He is in Nairobi and I am here at Kiganjo, four hours away." Keino apparently had forgotten that Velzian did not always live in Nairobi, that for two years he was practically next door at Kagumo College and working with Keino, then an unknown, on a regular basis. Since moving to Nairobi as national coach, Velzian had run up one of the grandest gasoline bills in East Africa, touring the provinces on weekends, getting in his coaching licks at schools and villages and army camps, outlining schedules for the more advanced athletes like Keino. He paid for his own gas.
No matter, Velzian was now out and no one was rallying to his defense. It was especially easy not to in Velzian's case because he had made a career of battling the Establishment and stepping on toes. (Ironically, his personal odyssey began in Kenya with a struggle against the other side of the racial issue. The first nut he had to crack was the old colonial prejudice that Africans would run only for a pot or a panga, never for the love of it.) New Coach Mukora was soon so wrapped up in administrative duties that, as he admitted to a local reporter, he had not coached a single training session or sent out a single individual schedule. The athletes were on their own, because after Mukora there was no one. If, therefore, you accept the argument that Velzian was no more than a little help, you must also conclude that, where once there was a little help, there now was no help.
Quite by accident, I later came upon a break in the party line. Lydia Stevens is one of the best girl runners in Kenya. She is a college student, bright and friendly. After watching her run at Nyeri one afternoon, I remarked on her beautiful style, a petite version of Wilma Rudolph. "I have a very good coach," she said. "Oh? Who is that?" "John Velzian," she said.
In the meanwhile the weeks went by, and it was evident nothing much was getting accomplished. How much damage was done is hard to tell. There is probably no way to red-tape a runner like Keino out of an Olympic medal, or a Temu, either, and Wilson Kiprugut is too dedicated to let himself deteriorate. But so much indulgence has been laid on Keino that you now needed a letter of introduction to get to him ("He will not talk to you without it," I was told by a Kenya AAA official. "He will give you a bad time. With a letter, you may get his cooperation"). Keino was not training, or not training very hard, and he competed only when the mood struck him. Kiprugut was unhappy, and Temu was threatening to retire. "There has been so little encouragement," he said.
In early August the national championships were held in Nyeri. Temu had a death in the family and missed the first day. Kogo did not compete at all. Keino was there but chose not to run in the mile or six miles, where he might have pulled some of the younger talent up to Olympic qualifying standards. I was told he had had a disagreement with the sports officer in his Central Province and refused to run for the Central team. Mukora, the coach, seemed to have no say in the matter. One was reminded that last November Diana Monks, then Kenya's outstanding girl athlete and an Olympic pentathlon contender, was suspended two years by the Kenya AAA for missing a meet without permission. Sports Officer William Yeda, who pretty much controls Kenyan athletics, called Miss Monks's neglect "an abuse to the nation." There were those, however, who argued that Miss Monks's principal offense was that she was a European (a white) and otherwise would not have been punished so severely. The suspension stuck.
Keino, though not competing, was much in evidence the first day of the meet at Nyeri. He moved around in a stylish gray suit and pointed shoes, sipping Coca-Colas and chatting with friends and checking times with his stopwatch. He was in good spirits. Peter Moll asked him why he would not run. "I will not," Keino said, dismissing the subject. On the second day he agreed to run as a "guest" (no team affiliation) in the three miles. He came on the track dramatically, the last one out, wearing satiny blue briefs and a white shirt with a small red cross in the middle. He warmed up apart from the others as the crowd hummed with excitement. There was no doubting his star quality. The other runners gave him respectful side-glances. In a good race of unspectacular time (13:31.3), he won the three-mile, beating Temu, and the big crowd in the bleachers and on the hillsides surrounding the stadium cheered him around.
None of the statistics for the two-day meet were outstanding, nor were they much better the next weekend when the Kenyans won the East African Games at Dar es Salaam. After that they flew down to Zambia, and there they all took a real rest: Keino ran 5,000 meters in 14:35.1, more than a minute slower than his best. Temu ran 10,000 meters in 30:32.7, two minutes off. Kiprugut's 800 meters (1:49.5) was four seconds off his best. The Kenyan sprinters, who had been coming on a year ago and were being advertised as a new thrust for Mexico City, were going badly. Rudisha could not even beat the local talent. "At this stage in his development," commented one correspondent, "I doubt Rudisha could outrun his clumsy Masai cattle."
In Nairobi, John Velzian said he was heartbroken by the turn of events. My first night there I had dinner with Velzian and invited him to cry it out, except that crying is not within Velzian's emotional range. He is, at all times, a confident little man, cocksure of his coaching ability, the legitimacy of which can be detected in five minutes of shoptalk. As a white man in a black country, he might have been better off had he adopted a more pliable nature, say like that of Onni Niskanen in Ethiopia. Niskanen coaches Abebe Bikila, the Olympic marathon champion in 1960 and 1964. The official line, as I discovered there three years ago, was that Niskanen is not Bikila's coach. Bikila told me Niskanen was his coach. I watched Niskanen coach him and the two of them clown around together. But officially I was directed to say that Niskanen was not Bikila's coach. It did not matter to Niskanen. He said he would as soon not have the notoriety. Velzian, younger (40) and less governable, does not shrink so willingly from the spotlight.
Velzian is not, and does not necessarily claim to be, the sum and substance of Kenya's athletic success. The Keinos and the Kipruguts emerged at the top of a pyramid built over the years from a solid, growing base: a broad athletic program at the school and village level. That is where Kenya has it over its African neighbors. (There is some irony in this, too, because nationwide emphasis on sport at that level was pushed during the Mau Mau emergency in the late 1950s, when sports officers were sent out to instruct and organize the young men in order to keep their minds off other activities. Mau Mau is now anathema in Kenya; no one likes to be reminded of it.) The school program gets widespread and enthusiastic support. The annual school track-and-field meet, held recently in Mombasa, drew 350 boys and girls. Velzian, retained for two years by the government as games tutor at the University College in Nairobi and as president of the Kenya Schools' Athletic Association, was in charge. Something of his approach to bureaucracy—the crash-right-through technique—can be seen in the way he handles transportation. He needed a train to get the 350 athletes to Mombasa. He called a railroad official. The official said it was impossible. "All right," said Velzian, "it's impossible. But it's not impossible for you to get on the phone and ring the vice-president of Kenya and tell him it's impossible, because he's the patron of our association." Velzian got his train. "We had a fantastic championship," he said.
At dinner Velzian said the first signs of his becoming expendable as national coach came after a story on him and the Kenyans appeared in SI, Dec. 19, 1966, written by Senior Editor Martin Kane. "The story was entirely accurate," said Velzian, "and flattering to me, but it did not sit well with the Kenya AAA." A "commission of inquiry" was formed to investigate the matter. Velzian was charged with glorifying himself. Sports Officer William Yeda made a list of complaints over statements of "fact," and Velzian answered that each statement was indeed a fact. Charles Mukora, who succeeded him as coach, accused Velzian of writing the story himself. Mukora said further that a picture showing Rudisha with a Masai spear and ocher on his face and body "made Kenya look as if it were a land of primitive savages."
Velzian said he believed that Yeda's antagonism stemmed from a deep-seated resentment over setbacks he (Yeda) had suffered in the past. "I think Yeda was gunning for me," said Velzian. The controversy over the story boiled for a while, but Velzian survived it, only to go through a series of smaller battles over other issues. "My feeling was we had to get as many Kenyan runners qualified for Mexico City as possible, and we had to have our meetings designed for that purpose, and we had to be very scientific about where we put our high-altitude training camp. Some of them couldn't even spell altitude, didn't know what oxygen debt was. It was becoming impossible to get anything right, and Kenya's chances were sliding away. I told them they were ruining the team."
Then, finally, came the African boycott movement against South Africa's admission into the Games. Velzian said, "I wanted the athletes to say, 'We don't care who he is, what color, what religion—if he has two legs, we'll run against him.' We should be apart from politics. I don't understand them, I don't expect my athletes to. But they were under pressure to speak out." After the African countries met and decided to boycott, the International Olympic Committee backed down and ruled South Africa out. The Kenya AAA met again. "They decided to have a reshuffling of our team organization," said Velzian. "The only one they reshuffled was me."
Previously, for all his work, Velzian had never been chosen to accompany the athletes on an overseas trip, except to the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966, when the Kenyan runners stood out like vest buttons. Only recently did he learn that he had been invited to coach the Commonwealth team for the meet with the U.S. at Los Angeles in July of 1967. "The invitation never got to me," said Velzian. "It got only as far as Yeda's office." Lieutenant Colonel Jack Davies of Canada, who was instrumental in the formation of the Commonwealth team, confirmed that Velzian had indeed been invited, but the invitation, following the routes of protocol, was sent to Dr. A. A. Ordia of Nigeria to pass on to the Kenya AAA. It was Colonel Davies' understanding that Velzian had turned it down. Velzian would have sooner cut off a leg. "We would have liked to have had him," said Davies. "I met him in Jamaica and was impressed."
We finished dinner and Velzian got up to leave. He had seldom smiled during the meal. He said he believed he was as good as through in Kenya, that if he were offered a coaching job in the United States he would "go in a minute." He said he could not entirely blame the Kenya AAA, because many of its members were new and did not really know him or share his past involvement. What bothered him, he said, was seeing those wonderful Kenyan prospects disintegrating.
"The team had looked so great last year," he said. "But from February on there were danger signs. No competition, no real training. I do not believe in closed seasons. I believe you must improve steadily and never, never go backward. The only justification for sending a team to Scandinavia was to win, to prepare them psychologically for the Olympics. Temu and Keino vs. Clarke. Two against one. They should have run him off the track. They should have had him thinking about retirement. I talked to them when they came home. I was with Keino just the other night. We talked until 4 in the morning. I was not happy with what I heard. They were talking about how good Clarke looked, how good the opposition was. They were talking about getting beat. Keino said he had had cramps in Scandinavia. I said to him, 'Kip, you are making excuses. You have never made excuses before.'
"If I had anything at all it was the ability to motivate. I would not have had them talking this way. I would not have-allowed it. We were a team, we thought as a team and we thought only of winning. I pushed hard, but when I pushed it was because it had to be. No, I will not go to the meet at Nyeri tomorrow. I am going to have a holiday at the beach instead. I think if I went to Nyeri it would break my heart."
On the evening after the first day's competition at Nyeri I sat with friends in the lounge at the Outspan Hotel, wondering whom I could coerce into writing a prefatory note to Keino. We had met at the track that afternoon and had talked briefly, laughing over small jokes—Keino handles English well and catches many of the subtleties—and he seemed glad to talk, but he made no promises for further discussion. Officials I had met at the track had been hastily introduced (one of them, I believe it was Yeda, advised me straight off "not to write distorted truths"), and there was no time for the framing of notes.
A big man with slightly Arabic features and bright, house-counting eyes suddenly loomed over us. "If you are the one who wrote that other story," he said in a loud voice, "I have come to have you deported. Failing that"—he broke into an enormous grin—"I will at least try to kill you during your stay here." The man was introduced as Aish Jeneby, secretary of the Kenya AAA. He quickly established his lead as a conversationalist.
I said I could not take credit for the story but appreciated the warning and would remember to lock my door and put a panga under the pillow. What about Keino?
Jeneby launched into a recital on his own travels with Kipchoge, lugging in some lengthy side references to the deplorable state of modern journalism, which he made clear was his reason for dropping by. He said he had accompanied Kipchoge to Russia in July, where, on the day of the 10,000-meter competition, Kipchoge's shoes were stolen. "If I ever thought of becoming a Communist," bellowed Jeneby, "that changed me forever. It was Kipchoge's only pair!" In borrowed shoes two sizes too large, Keino finished second, with blisters. "After the race the Kenya ambassador to Russia came onto the track and picked Kipchoge up bodily. There were 20 Kenyans there from the embassy, and they made the noise of 1,000. You should have heard them."
Eventually, Jeneby lectured me on my mission: "We are not rich here in Kenya," he said, "and we have much to learn, but we are a very, very proud people. Very proud. We are not happy that the American athletes will not come to run here. Your Mr. Ryun has turned us down, and others, too. We will not send our runners to the United States again until they come here. I promise you that.
"But we also need your help. We need equipment, you can see that. Runners without shoes. We need coaching. We encourage your help. Criticize us if you like, that is all right. We need that, too. Criticize us. But be honest."
I told him I would, and I would be, and I could use some help myself. How was he at writing mash notes to Kipchoge? The next morning Jeneby wrote the note. He delayed long enough to check it through with another member of the AAA, but he wrote it.
Keino's quarters at the police training college at Kiganjo are down a red dirt road lined with poinsettias. The house is pleasantly seated among euphorbia trees and banana plants, and alongside there is a shelter for a car. Once, Keino said, he had owned a Peugeot, but he found that having it made him use it and he would stay out too late for a man who was supposed to be training. He sold the Peugeot.
It was after 10 a.m. when I arrived. Keino was just finishing breakfast. There was a large box of American cornflakes on the table. Keino got up and came outside, wearing over his Western clothes a colorful West African serapelike garment he bought in his travels. Whenever I have seen him he has always been handsomely groomed. He looked smaller in street clothes than he did on the track. He is no more than 5'10", 145 pounds. I remembered that in Jamaica Velzian had been told by a foreign colleague that Keino would never cut it "because his legs are too skinny." "You must come to Kenya," said Velzian, "and see our Grant's gazelles. They also have thin legs."
I never quite got the feeling of being swept off my feet with hospitality, but Keino was a good host. He read Jeneby's note and invited me in and soon was at ease. He has a practiced charm; he arches his eyebrows and smiles, and when he smiles his dimples sink and the gap shows where there is a tooth missing in the middle of his lower jaw. "It is an old tribal custom," he explained. "When you are sick they can put milk through, or medicine. It was taken out when I was very young."
Keino had houseguests, a young schoolteacher and his wife. The young man had grown up near Keino's home village of Kaptagunyo in the Rift Valley, 200 miles from Kiganjo. It is at Kaptagunyo that Keino's wife lives with their 4-year-old daughter and runs the family farm and sees that the cattle are tended. Keino tries to get home at least once a month. He showed pictures of his daughter. I asked if more children were in the plans. "That is not my will," said Keino. "That is God's will."
His houseboy brought coffee. Around the living room were the evidences of Keino's high station: a picture of him and Jomo Kenyatta, smiling at one another and holding the stuffed-lion mascot of Kenya's team. Both wore uhuhru hats. There was a large and crowded trophy case; pennants from Brazil and Zambia and other places he has run; a large stuffed panda. The only picture of him in action shows him in a race with Ron Clarke. Clarke is ahead in the picture. Keino sat down and passed around the cream and sugar. He said he was tired from a 10-mile morning walk he had taken with his police recruits. "It is easier to run than to walk," he said.
We talked freely, if somewhat perfunctorily, and what he did not care to discuss he simply did not discuss, as though the question, no matter how inoffensive, had not been asked. I had heard that Kipchoge meant "son of milkman," or a reasonable facsimile. I asked him about it. He looked away and said nothing. He grew up on a farm, he said, with three sisters, and sometimes they helped him watch the cattle, but it was his job. "My father did not like it when I went to school," he said, "because then I could not watch the cattle."
Keino said he played football (soccer) as a child, using a tennis ball or a ball made of rope. "I was usually a good footballer," he said, "but when I started athletics it was not good to concentrate on two sports, so I gave up the football." He said he had pleasant memories of his first trip abroad, all the way to Perth, Australia on a big airliner. It was in 1962 for the Commonwealth Games. "We made stops in other countries. It was very good. I saw the differences of people, how they looked and acted. The Australians were different, and then I saw the Malaysians and they were different, and the Orientals. In each place they were different. It is good to travel and be able to return and tell of your experiences to young sportsmen."
He reenacted that first competition in Perth. He was 22 and just coming into his own as a runner. "I got to be way ahead in the race. I think Ron Clarke was in it. I was half a lap ahead, and then I was 200 yards ahead and we came to the last lap. We came to the stretch, and then, shhhh, one is by me. Shhhh, two is by me. Shhhh, three comes. I am thinking they are all coming by me. Four, five, six. Shh, shhhh. They are all sprinting. I was annoyed. I could do nothing."
He said he began working right away to get himself a finishing kick, and to do that he shortened his stride. "I was running the same speed all the time. I had a long, long stride. I had to learn to accelerate. I thought for myself that I must cut my stride in order to accelerate. It was about eight feet. I cut it to six feet." He said he had learned by watching others. He did not say whether John Velzian had taught him anything at all. "I learned more of tactical running in the two times I have raced against Jim Ryun than any other way. Ryun," he said reverently, "is very strong."
Keino has been a policeman for 10 years, always at the college in Kiganjo. He said he would remain a policeman. The food is good and there is a pension at age 50. He likes the work, instructing in physical education, and he trains as he pleases. Ordinarily he will run six miles a day. That is short rations by the masochistic standards of American and European distance runners, but it is over hilly terrain, at 5,500 feet, and for him it is enough. He said, however, that he had not really trained well since January. He did not think he was far behind, but he did not think, either, that he was pushing for three events as everybody expected. He said he had tried to run in two—the 5,000 and 1,500—at Tokyo and had become tired, and there were no medals to comfort him.
"My people want me always to run in three events," he said. "I do not think it is so good. I am human. I think it is better to concentrate on one." He had been told by one Nairobi writer that he would be wasting a marvelous chance, because he could be a triple gold-medal winner. Keino replied, "It is easy for you to say, 'Run all three, Kipchoge.' You will sit and write while I run."
Velzian, on the other hand, believes the schedule in Mexico City is made to order for a Keino grand slam. As he sees it, Keino could run the 10,000 meters as a straight training session. He will need one anyway. After a day's rest he could run a trial heat in the 5,000, rest another day, run the 5,000 final and then tackle Ryun at 1,500. As September began, Keino ran a 3:53.3 mile in a meet at 3,700-foot altitude (and pulled 19-year-old Ben Jipcho under 4 minutes). Perhaps Velzian is right.
I invited Keino to join me at the Outspan that night for dinner, but he did not make it and he did not call. Later he explained that he had been detained at the dance for the athletes and their guests in Nyeri. His friend the teacher said the evening was not a total loss. Keino had won second prize in the dance contest.
It required no notes or special envoys to see Temu and Kiprugut and the other Kenyan runners. They came to Nairobi to group at the Highridge Teachers' College for training prior to the trip to Dar es Salaam. In the mornings and afternoons they could be found in the dormitory rooms, and we sat around on the bunks and talked of their dreams.
Temu, now 24, is an army private. He is narrow of shoulder, thinner even than Keino. He talked about how strong Ron Clarke looked in Finland. He wanted to know what had happened to Billy Mills, the American who had won the 10,000 meters at Tokyo. "We do not know where he went," he said. "Where did Billy Mills went? Is he training?" I told him Mills was, indeed, in training but had not been assured a place on the U.S. team. "Everybody must be fit," he said wistfully. "Everybody will be lighting to win. Ron Clarke, he looks very fit."
Wilson Kiprugut came into the room. He said he was trying to find a place to lay his body. He is 28, like Keino, but he has been competing for 12 years and he says he is very tired and will retire from running after the Olympics and concentrate on making sergeant major. "It is very difficult," he said. "It takes much seniority."
Kiprugut has a very soft, expressive voice and, more than all the others, his conversation is easy and expansive. He volunteers information. He is better built than Keino or Temu, strong in the upper torso like the Masai, Rudisha. "I am not so strong now," Kiprugut said. "I am getting older now. I am getting tired. But not so bad, not so bad at all."
Kiprugut is of the Kipsigis tribe. He said it was nine miles to his school as a boy and he had to run it, too, but he did not run it for long. "I complained to my father to buy me a bicycle, and my father bought me a bicycle." When he was young, he said, "I tried to run against big men. I am running in the 440. I come second in our location. Then I go to the district. I come third. They take me to run in the interprovince meeting. I come fourth. So I go back to school again.
"Now I am very keen to train. I go to my teacher and I tell him, 'Sir, please let me do some training for athletics.' I now get to have plenty of practice. I am very keen for the 440 and the 880. I come first in my area. I work very hard, and I think now I am very good indeed, so I try to get some shoes. I am still running barefoot when I join the army in 1959, and the army gives me shoes. Black skin shoes with spikes. I do not like them. In 1960 I do not go anywhere. But in 1961 I start to build up again. In 1962 I am very good indeed. Now, the sports officer he is very keen to help me. He buys me a very good pair of shoes."
He talked about his Olympic medal and the day he raised the flag. "Oh, it was a very good day. Everybody was so very happy. Everybody was dancing in the streets, in the airport. Everybody was very, very happy." He said his travels had taught him much, and he had learned much about coaching. "In Tokyo I was very keen to ask about training, to sit down and talk and to learn. I was not having any coaching at that time. I learned much. Peter Snell was too busy to talk. He was hiding himself on another track. But I kept trying to have friendships, to talk about coaching. I would like to coach. I would like to have it here like it is in the United States." He smiled. "I think you have one coach for every athlete in the United States."
I asked if he were looking forward to Mexico City, and what he expected to find for himself there. Kiprugut shook his head.
"The Kenya people say, 'Ah, he is now in a good position. Maybe he will get the gold medal, or the silver medal,' but I say I do not know. These things do not come automatically. The other boys, they feel they are in a good position, too. I may be in the Top Ten in the world, but maybe there will be very good Americans and Russians and Australians and Germans. Maybe they have a better condition than me. It depends on many things, the climate, many things. It is very difficult. I am in good shape here, at 5,000, 6,000 feet. When I go up to 7,000 feet it will not be the same. I cannot promise anyone I will do this and this. It is very difficult."
On the two days that I watched the Kenyans train as a team at the army camp outside Nairobi, Charles Mukora, the coach, could not be there, being busy with other duties. It is probable that he made other sessions, but those I watched were haphazard and desultory. Keino came one day in street clothes and kept times with his watch. He said his stomach had been bothering him.
Perhaps, as Kipling once said, "...more men are killed by overwork than the impatience of this world justifies," and it may be the Kenyans are so good that all their doubts and apparent neglect will drift away in the breeze of their own great talent. There is a tree in East Africa called the baobab, a fat-bellied tree that produces large, pendulous flowers and oblong fruits filled with pulp. Though its trunk is enormous, the branches of the baobab slim down quickly into thousands of spindly, weblike tendrils, and the tree appears on the horizon to be almost barren. According to legend, the baobab was uprooted by the Devil and the branches are actually the roots. There is much in Africa today that seems to be growing upside down. Those who philosophize could say that the roots are actually reaching for the stars and are not upside down at all. It is all in the point of view. I would feel more confident of it if I had found the black faces laughing.
Kenya's Kipchoge Keino (left) and Wilson Kiprugut jog on an East African plain.
Controversial John Velzian, here instructing a worker, was fired as Kenya's national coach.
Big 1968 failure was Daniel Rudisha, last year the fastest 440 man in world outside U.S.
Velzian's successor was Charles Mukora, who became preoccupied with administrative detail.