King Henry – the year Rono ruled the world
In 1978 Henry Rono was the king of the distance running world. In the space of 81 days the colourful Kenyan broke four world records: 10,000 m (27:22.5), the 5000 metres (13:08.4), the 3000 metres steeplechase (8:05.4), and the 3000 metres (7:32.1).
Rono was born today (12th of February) in the Nandi Hills in 1952 Kenya. He is one of the most decorated NCAA athletes in history and was a trailblazer for Kenyan running following in the footsteps of the great Kip Keino. He attended Washington State University and became only the third person in history (after Gerry Lindgren and Steve Prefontaine) to win the NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championship three times, doing so in 1976, 1977 and 1979.
1978 was without doubt his greatest season and he lowered the 10,000m record by almost 8 seconds, the 5000m by 4.5 seconds, the steeplechase by 2.6 seconds, and the 3000m by a full three seconds. In the same year he also won gold in the 5000m and the 3000m steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton along with gold in the 10,000m and steeplechase at the All Africa Games in Algiers.
Among his other performances was a steeplechase / 5000 m double in one day during qualifying at the NCAA championships at the University of Oregon at Eugene’s Hayward Field. 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.
Rono would never match 1978 and never got to compete at the Olympics as Kenya country boycotted both the 1976 and the 1980 Olympic Games. In 1981 he set another 5,000 m world record of 13:06.20 in 1981. He was an effervescent character but the good life, in particular drink, blunted further success but there was no doubting one of the most naturally talented athletes to grace the track. Below is another playlist collection of some of his great races.
one mile: 3:59.2 indoors (1977)
3000m: 7:32.1 (1978)
5000m: 13:06.20 (1981)
10,000m: 27:22.47 (1978)
3000m steeplechase: 8:05.4 (1978)