Kenya's Wilson Kiprugut in action at the 1964 Olympic Games (© Hulton / Getty)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Wilson Chuma Kiprugut, the first person from Kenya ever to win an Olympic medal, died on Tuesday (1) at the age of 84.
Born and raised in Kericho, Kiprugut took up running during his time at Kaptebeswet Primary School and later Sitowet Intermediate School. Starting out as a 400m runner, Kiprugut’s first major tournament was the 1958 East African Championships, where he was scouted by the Kenyan Army. He eventually rose to the rank of sergeant, but athletics remained his main focus and his journey in the sport continued with an appearance at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, exiting the heats of the 400m but later finishing fifth in the 4x400m.
Kiprugut soon started to gravitate towards the 800m. A victory at the 1964 East and Central African Championships was confirmation that the event switch was a good move. He was selected to represent Kenya in that event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo later that year. After equalling the Olympic record of 1:46.1 in the semifinals, he went on to take the bronze medal in the final in an African record of 1:45.9.
Not only was he the first African athlete to break 1:46 for the 800m, he became the first person from Kenya to win an Olympic medal in any sport.
He won 400m and 800m gold at the 1965 All African Games and silver in the 880 yards at the 1966 Commonwealth Games. He improved his African 800m record to 1:45.2 in 1967, then successfully defended his title at the 1967 and 1968 East and Central African Championships, underlining his status as the best two-lap runner on the continent.
He went to the 1968 Olympic Games as one of the medal favourites, and safely made it through the rounds. He led for most of the final, passing through 200m in 24.8 and 400m in 51.0, but Australia’s Ralph Doubell kicked off the final bend and overtook Kiprugut, winning in 1:44.3 to equal the world record at the time.
Kiprugut took silver in 1:44.5, the third-fastest performance in history at that time and an African record that stood until 1974.
He retired from competition in 1969, but continued working as a coach and fitness instructor in the Kenyan army for another five years.
"Wilson was one of the founders of Kenyan middle-distance running dominance," said Doubell, the 1968 Olympic 800m champion. "As a competitor he was fast, strong and fearless - three characteristics which are still displayed by Kenyan athletes today."