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Tributes pour in for Olympian Jipcho

By Charles Thuku
Saturday, July 25th, 2020
Olympian Ben Jipcho at a past athletics function. Photo/PD:WEBSTER NYANDIKA

Tributes from athletics fraternity continued pouring in for fallen Olympian Ben Jipcho.

 The National Olympics of Kenya (NOC-K) president Paul Tergat eulogized Jipcho as a selfless athlete who put Kenya on the global map during his days, adding that the gap he has left will be hard to fill.

“Noc-K has learnt with deep sorrow the demise of one of our greatest athlete, Ben Jipcho.

Ben was among our trailblazers in putting Kenya at the global limelight and established the tradition which has kept our country as a sporting powerhouse,” said Tergat.

The Noc-K supremo reminisced the days when Jipcho was incredulous on the track in the 60’s and 70’s alongside other legends in the country.

“Ben was an astute steeple chaser, fearless racer and athletics warrior rolled into one and we give homage to him alongside fellow veteran legends like Kip Keino, Ben Kogo and Amos Biwott,” remarked Tergat.

He reckoned that Ben’s demise was a huge blow to younger players who looked upon him for inspiration and and who would later keep Kenya’s candle aglow in the revered sport.

“As a retired Olympian and patriot, Ben Jipcho beat the odds of his time to motivate future athletes to keep flying Kenyan flag high.

His passing on could not have come at a worse time when we just marked the one-year countdown to Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

We join his family in mourning during this trying time and May his soul rest in eternal peace,”  said Tergat.

Considered one of the finest athletes of his generation, Jipcho succumbed to cancer at the Fountain Hospital in Eldoret, according to his daughter Ruth.

 “My father died of cancer. If he had been attended to for the years he has been ailing at home in Kitale he would have been better but he was on his own with only my mum (Bilia) to look after him,” said Ruth

 “I thank former athletes Kipchoge Keino, Rose Tata and Susan Sirma for being in touch with my father until the time she rested.” Jipcho was 77 years,” she added 

 In the meantime, Kipchoge Keino, a gold medalist in the 1,500m at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, was at the hospital to check on Jipcho who was his long time friend. “l’m shocked as I was at the hospital and prayed for his quick recovery,” said Keino while recalling with nostalgia his 1,500m race in Mexico with Jipcho. “Then, I had been advised by doctors not to run because I was unwell but  I decided that I will run, boarded the bus to the stadium but because of traffic jam I got out and jogged to the stadium,” said Keino

He went on: “Our coach Mukora (Charles) was shocked to see me. I told him I’m running. I met with Jipcho at the starting line. We didn’t talk as we were all focusing on the race. Jipcho ran his own race. He didn’t set the pace for me as some journalists had reported.” said Keino who caused an upset by beating renowned American athlete then Jim Ryun to the second position.

On Jipcho, Keino said he was a personal friend and training partner whom he met while preparing for the Mexico Olympics at the Thompsons Falls in Nyahururu.

Three-time world 3000m steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui said Jipcho inspired him to run the water jump event.

“As kids we used to watch Jipcho running the steeplechase race with ease. The name itself Jipcho was an inspiration,” said Kiptanui.

“Even after he retired from athletics, he used to come to our races to encourage us. It’s unfortunate Jipcho died a lonely man. Athletics Kenya and the government had forgotten about him and what he did for the country,” said Kiptanui.

He added: “My advice to current athletes is to plan for their future in advance. They should not expect any support from the government or the athletics body once they retire. They’re only interested in us when we’re doing well but forget us in retirement.”                   -Charles Thuku

Jipcho won silver in the 3000m steeplechase at the 1972 Munich Olympics with Keino taking gold.