Ben Jipcho at the 1972 Olympic Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

Jipcho, 1972 Olympic silver medallist and Kenyan athletics pioneer, dies

World Athletics is deeply saddened by the news that Ben Jipcho, a pioneering Kenyan middle distance runner, died on Friday (24). Jipcho, the 1972 Olympic silver medallist in the 3000m steeplechase and former world record holder in the event, was 77.

Jipcho died of multiple organ failur at the Fountain Hospital in Eldoret where he had been hospitalised since Wednesday (23).

"We are saddened by the loss of Jipcho, a pioneer of athletics in Kenya. My heartfelt condolences to his family and Kenyans at large," said Paul Tergat, President of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya.

Jipcho, who began his running career in the mid 1960s, rose to prominence in the 1968 Olympic 1500m final in Mexico City where he sacrificed his own ambitions to figure in the medal battle by acting as a pacesetter for Kipchoge Keino, who went on to win the title over Jim Ryun. Jipcho set out on a world record pace, covering the first lap in 56 seconds and bringing Keino through 800m in 1:55.3. Keino won in 3:34.91, an astounding performance given Mexico City's high altitude, an Olympic record that stood for 16 years while Jipcho eventually crossed the line tenth.

He returned to the Olympic stage four years later, and again in the same race with Keino, this time the 3000m steeplechase. Keino won again in Olympic record time by Jipcho caught Finn Tapio Kantanen at the line to take silver by a scant 0.02 in 8:24.62.

His finest championship performances came at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he raced race to victory in the 5000m and 3000m steeplechase and taking bronze in the 1500m.

He also won the 5000m title at the 1973 All-Arica Games and silver in the steeplechase at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.

Jipcho broke the world record in the 3000m steeplechase twice over the course of eight days in 1973, first clocking 8:19.8 on 19 June then smashing that performance with an 8:14.0 run on 27 June, both times in Helsinki.

Jipcho was later among the key stars of the International Track Association (ITA), a short-lived professional tour in the United States in the early 1970s.

In a post on the government's Facebook page, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta eulogised Kipcho "as a pioneer athlete who helped cement Kenya's profile on the international stage as a top athletics nation".

Wesley Korir, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion and a former Kenyan MP, told The Standard, "Jipcho gave us a foundation which we used to build our running career. We have lost a pillar that will be hard to replace."

Bob Ramsak for World Athletics