Distance running great Henry Rono dies

Edwin  - CEO February 15, 2024
Updated 2024/02/16 at 1:07 AM
4 Min Read
Henry Rono at the World Athletics Gala in 2008 (© AFP / Getty Images)
Henry Rono at the World Athletics Gala in 2008 (© AFP / Getty Images)

Multiple world record-breaker passes on


Henry Rono competes in the 3000m steeplechase at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton (© Getty Images)


World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Kenyan distance running great Henry Rono, who set four world records in 81 days in 1978, died on Thursday (15) at 72.


As part of his world record spree, Rono made history in the 3000m, 3000m steeplechase, 5000m, and 10,000m. His records in the 3000m and 3000m steeplechase stood for over a decade.


Born on February 12, 1952, Rono hails from Kiptaragon in Kenya’s Rift Valley. A bicycle accident left him unable to walk until he was six, and two-time Olympic champion Kip Keino inspired Rono to run.


Rono joined the Kenyan Army in 1973 and continued to progress in athletics. He was selected for the 1976 Olympic Games in the 3000m steeplechase and 5000m but did not make it to Montreal because of the Kenyan boycott.


Based in the USA and studying at Washington State University, Rono won the first of three NCAA cross-country titles that year – retaining the crown in 1977 and completing his hat-trick in 1979. He also became the NCAA indoor 3000m champion in 1977, winning NCAA 3000m steeplechase titles in 1978 and 1979.


Rono achieved the first of his world records in Berkeley, California, on April 8, 1978. Racing on the Edwards Field track at the University of California, the 26-year-old physical education and psychology sophomore clocked 13:08.4 for 5000m, improving the record that had been set by Dick Quax the previous year by four-and-a-half seconds.


Henry Rono celebrates at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton (© Getty Images)


The 3000m steeplechase record was next. Racing in windy conditions in Seattle on May 13, he crossed the finish line in 8:05.4 to take 2.6 seconds off the almost two-year-old record that Anders Garderud had set.


On June 11, Rono improved the world’s 10,000m record by a remarkable eight seconds, running 27:22.47 at Cricketer Place in Vienna to smash the previous 27:30.47 set by Samson Kimobwa a year earlier.


Then, at the Bislett Games in Oslo on June 27, he ran 7:32.1 to shave more than three seconds from Brendan Foster’s almost four-year-old record.


Rono racked up a winning streak of 31 outdoor races in 1978, including at the All-Africa Games in Algiers, where he claimed a 3000m steeplechase and 10,000m double, and at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, where he won the 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m.


Rono graduated from Washington State University with a degree in general studies in 1981 – the year he set the fifth world record of his career, improving his 5000m mark to 13:06.20 in Knarvik in Norway.


After retiring from competitive athletics, Rono qualified as a teacher and became a coach.


“My two dreams were created in the 1960s. I became a professional teacher and a track champion,” Rono said in a 2003 interview with World Athletics. “The running profession came first in the early 1970s and ended 25 years later. The teaching profession began in the 1990s, and today, I enjoy it much better than the achievement of an athletic celebrity.”


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