Henry Rono: Kenya’s greatest track athlete

Henry Rono is arguably the most talented long distance runner Kenya has ever produced. And that is saying a lot considering how much talent Kenya has produced over the years.

He was born in 1952 in Nandi hills.He had been running seriously since his days in primary school. In 1976 he was awarded a scholarship to run at Washington State University. He went on to win the NCAA cross country championships 3 times. His time of 28.07 minutes in the NCAA X country is still the fastest ever as of 2011.

In the spring of 1978 he performed what is probably the greatest feat in the history of athletics. In a span of 81 days, he set four world records: the 10,000 meters (27:22.5), the 5,000 meters (13:08.4), the 3,000 meters steeplechase (8:05.4), and the 3,000 meters (7:32.1); an achievement unparalleled in the history of distance running. He lowered the 10,000 meter record by almost 8 seconds, the 5,000 by 4.5, the steeplechase by 2.6, and the 3,000 by a full three seconds.

In the 1978 Commonwealth games, he won the 3000m steeplechase and the 5000m by huge margins. At the NCAA championships at the University of Oregon at Eugene’s Hayward Field he completed a steeplechase / 5000 m double in one day during qualifying . He set meet records in both events, turning in an 8:18 and 13:22. The former took 6 seconds off the NCAA meet record for the steeple. When he ran the steeplechase final the next day, he won in 8:12.39, taking another six seconds off the steeplechase mark. He also won 10,000 metres and 3000 metres steeplechase gold medals at the 1978 All-Africa Games

Sadly he missed the 1976 Olympics due to the mass boycott. Kenya missed the 1980 Olympics due to an ill-advised boycott pushed by the United States.  He was in his prime and was the best distance runner at the time. He was surely going to win a gold medal or two. The world missed a glorious opportunity to watch the greatest distance runner up to that point. It is said that participating in too many events in the demanding NCAA competitions ended his career early.

At various points in his life, Rono has had problems with alcoholism. It is said that in September 1981, Rono got drunk the night before he was due to run a 5000m in Knarvik, near Oslo. The following day he ran for an hour in the morning to sweat out the alcohol and recover from the hangover and that night set a World record of 13:06.20. Rono would later blame his alcoholism on depression caused by missed opportunities especially the 1980 Olympics.

In November of 2019, he returned to Kenya for the first time since 1986.


Rono at JKIA when he came back home after a 33 year absence.

“I feel fresh like a new born baby. It has not been easy staying way for three decades, but, nevertheless, I was mentally and physically prepared for this moment. It’s a long time for sure but I am happy to be back home,” said Rono upon arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

Author: players