Monday, 1 October 2012

Benjami Kogo: The forgoten world beating athlete

This man, like his peers, ran for the love of his country

Meeting Benjamin Kogo recently in his home in Kabirsang Village of Nandi County, nothing in the old man betrays his world beating athletics prowess. Nothing at all, until he speaks, tells you that he is indeed the 1968 Summer Olympics silver medalist in 3000 meters steeplechase, an event now globally acceptable as a Kenyan preserve. Though living in his humble home, little known, he belongs in his own right, to the group of individuals forming the early Kenyan running elites.

Benjamin Kipkurgat Arap Kogo was born in 1945 in Arwos in the vast, tea and maize planting County of Nandi. He traces the beginnings of his running career to his days in primary school when he participated in the inter districts games which drew participants from the then very big districts of Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet and Nakuru. “Those days when we started running, we used to do it barefoot. There were no shoes for athletes.” Kogo says he ran in numerous school tournaments before his talent was noticed and called for assignment on behalf of the country.

The 1968 Olympic Games that Kogo participated in marked an improved performance from Kenya and many African countries as most continued enjoying their newly-found independence from their colonial masters. “Running in the Olympic games still remains a great achievement to me. It is an honour to run for flag, for your country in such a big event as the Olympics.”  Kogo reminisces that it brought him joy and pride to go for assignment on behalf of Kenya. He also points out that in 1968 Mexico City Olympics, he was no stranger to the games as he had participated in the 1964 games held in Tokyo-Japan, but failed to make it to the final in the steeplechase event. “I think we did not do enough training that time. We trained easy so obviously the competition became tough.” He finished fifth in the first round heats by clocking 8:51:0 in the race won in Olympic record time of 8:30:8 by Belgian Gaston Roelants. With the benefit of hindsight, he advises with wisdom that only comes with age that “Train hard, compete easy.”

Kogo is however quick to point out that despite his success on the field, no form of recognition has come his way. “I am as you see me. No one still remembers me. I and my colleagues did our best during our time, but now that old age is catching up with us, no one seems remember what we did.” He says that the athletics officials, some of whom were his peers on the track should initiate ways of recognizing and rewarding all the retired athletes who won medals in their respective events during their careers. Kogo remembers how reception was when they returned from representing Kenya in competitions. “The welcomes were a simple affair. A luncheon or dinner where we could eat after which every team member was seen off to their respective people for seven a days leave from work.” He explains that there was no monetary reward for their effort in service to the nation.

With various continental and regional games titles, Benjamin Kogo indeed boasts of one of illustrious athletics careers of his time.   He won gold at the first All-Africa Games held in 1965 in Brazzaville in a time of 8:47:4 where he fought off stiff competition from compatriot Naftali Chirchir and Eddy Okadapau of Uganda who came in second and third respectively.  Kogo also exhibited seasoned running in the1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games winning a bronze medal. He says the country’s athletics managers should devise ways of seeking and incorporating the veterans’ views on the day to day running of Kenya’s athletics affairs. “Some of the men and women can be very good coaches by virtues of experience. There are also managers among us.”

Asked why they did not form a welfare society or a group to champion their interests, he explains that at the time, there was no knowledge of the benefits of coming together, but quickly adds that it is never too late to do so. The challenge he says, is in the logistics of organizing a meeting to chart the way forward as most of them do not have resources to spare due to biting poverty. “The onus lies on the likes of (Dr.) Kipchoge Keino who is a leader of the athletes to look for his peers and organize us in a way that we can ask for assistance and recognition from our country because we deserve it.”

Before his retirement in 1976, Kogo served this country in the military as a mechanic. He lives with his wife in his farm in Kabirsang, Nandi County, near Kapsabet Town where he does tea farming. He keeps cattle and plants maize for subsistence purposes.

Nandi County is recognized the world over as the producer of the most successful athletes including the celebrated Kipchoge Keino, a gold medalist at Mexico City 1968 and Munich in 1972 Olympic games and Prof. Mike Boit, a Bronze medalist at Munich 1972 Olympics, the 1968 Olympic gold medalist Amos Kipwambok Biwott and the 1973 All-Africa Games gold medalist Tecla Chemabwai. Others include two times Boston Marathon champion Moses Tanui and Commonwealth games gold medalist Japheth Kimutai. The County still basks in the athletics limelight as the recent past and current crop of world beating athletes like Pamela Jelimo, Richard Mateelong, Wilfred Bungei, Janet Chepkosgei and Super Henry Rono, Kenya Paralympian Henry Kirwa, among many others, hail from Nandi.

1. Swift: Benjamin Kogo won gold at the first All-Africa Games held in 1965 in Brazzaville. He is also a bronze medalist from the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games.

2. My Story: Benjamin Kogo speaks to Kass TV’s “Hall of Fame” program producers. Catch the stories of former world beating, record breaking athletes on Kass TV every Thursday at 7:30pm

 3. Kenyan Style: Benjamin Kogo flies high in 3000m steeplechase action. He is silver medalist from 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City. The event was won by his fellow Kenyan, Amos Biwott.

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