Legendary Kenyan athlete Hezekiah Kipchoge “Kip” Keino had in October 1968 under searing temperatures in the high-humidity and high-altitude Mexico City, and against medical advice because of his stomach ailments and weakness, won the Olympic gold medal in the 1500 meters (establishing a new Olympic record of 3min. 34.91sec.). Kip Keino even managed to bag the silver medal in the 5000 meters, finishing behind legendary Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi, and ahead of the third Naftali Temu who had won the very first ever Olympic gold for Kenya by earlier winning in the 10000 meters. Keino had collapsed from weakness while competing in the 10000 meters, but would rise up and congratulate and hug his young team-mate at the finishing line. https://www.ziabis.com/

A versatile, enthusiastic, patriotic, and determined middle- and long-distance runner, Kip Keino now in Munich in the summer of 1972 was now a 32 year-old veteran and an Olympian for a third consecutive time. But Keino, amidst the youthful competition, defied his age. In Mexico City, in 1968, only two of the 52 other competitors in the 1500m had been older than the then 28 year-old Keino. In Munich at age 32, Keino was very much the elderly statesman in the 1500m line-up. Furthermore, the astonishing Keino had only four months earlier started to embrace the 3000m steeplechase. And he did qualify in the steeplechase to compete for Kenya! Keino had taken the steeplechase seriously after he had found that the Olympic schedule would not allow him to compete in both the 1500m and the 5000m.

Compared to glorious Keino, a very unknown commodity in the person of Filbert Sanka Bayi was in Munich to represent another east African country–Tanzania. Keino was undoubtedly one of Bayi’s foremost idols and inspirations. Keino remains the most immortal name among African track athletes!

Filbert Bayi, an athlete with an “afro-hairstyle” and boyish looks, had grown up near Arusha on a farm in Karutu within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bayi left school at age 17 and migrated to the capital Dar-es-Salaam. Bayi’s early running training was relatively crude. In the crowded, high-humidity capital, Bayi would pick out and sprint alongside a moving bus and rest when the bus was loading and unloading passengers—some form of interval training. In 1971 Bayi achieved a reasonably good 3min 52 seconds in the 1500m.

THE YEAR 1972

It was earlier in 1972, Bayi’s personal bests and national wins in the 1500m (3:45) and steeplechase (8:55) qualified him to represent Tanzania at the Olympic Games in Munich.

In Munich, Filbert Bayi, a tall 19 year-old lightweight, a Tanzania airforce technician just so happened to be scheduled to compete in the same two events that Kip Keino was enrolled: the 1500m and the 3000m steeplechase. And while Keino was the elder, Filbert Bayi was one of two 19 year-olds that were youngest of the steeplechase competitors. There would only be four heats, and the top three finishers in each round would advance to the finals. The heats took place on September 1, 1972. Bayi was drawn in Heat One, the same heat that included Keino. Tapio Kantanen of Finland won (with an Olympic Record of 8:24.8), Keino was second, and the third finals’ qualifier was Takaharu Koyama of Japan. Bayi was ninth with a time of 8:41.4 (a Tanzania national record) and therefore was out of the competition. Heat Two witnessed Kenya’s legendary Benjamin Jipcho win; in Heat Three another Finn Pekka Paivarinta won. The Fourth Heat was won by another Kenyan legend Amos Biwott who had won the steeplechase Olympic gold four years earlier. Biwott’s finish in 8:23.73 broke the Olympic record that had been established three heats ago! Notably, Biwott’s steeplechase win in 1968 would be the beginning of the consecutive dominance of the steeplechase by Kenyans at the Olympics (apart from the 1976 and 1980 Games which Kenya boycotted) that has yet to be shattered!

The finals of the steeplechase were held on September 7th, 1972. Kip Keino would win in a new Olympic record of 8:23.64, followed by Benjamin “Ben” Wabura Jipcho (8:24.62), and the bronze was won by Tapio Kantanen (8:24.66). Amos Biwott came in sixth in a time of 8:33.48.

As for the 1500m, seven heats were established for Round One to take place on September 8th. The fastest four of each heat (plus two wild cards) would advance to the semi-finals. Filbert Bayi was eliminated when in Heat Two he finished sixth out of 8 competitors. But commendably, Bayi had again established another new national record–3:45.4. Keino won in Heat Four and was followed by Rod Dixon of New Zealand. Heat Six was won by Pekka Vasala of Finland; and Heat Seven was won by another Kenyan legend Mike Boit. The semi-finals were held on September 9th. Mike Boit, Keino, and Rod Dixon won in the three Heats. Ten that including big names in the competition such as Pekka Vasala and Brendan Foster (GBR) were set for the 1500m finals showdown. On September 10, Keino worked to psychologically wear down the competition, but in the final stretch of the 1500m he was outsprinted by 24 year-old Pekka Vasala (3:36.33) of Finland and settled for the silver (3:36.81). This was regarded by many as an upset. Rod Dixon of New Zealand claimed the bronze, Mike Boit was fourth, and Brendan Foster was fifth. What would become of Filbert Bayi?

The annual East and Central African Championships were next held in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, comfortably Bayi’s territory. Bayi was not disappointing. On December 3rd, 1972, only 3 months after the Olympics, Bayi became a regional champion in the 1500m. He won in an impressive time of 3:38.9, not only a national record but a shaving off of more than 5 seconds from the national record he had established less than three months earlier at the Olympics. Two Kenyans Wilson Waigwa and D. Mungai won the silver and bronze, respectively. Bayi was fast gaining the confidence to face even more formidable competition.

THE YEAR 1973

Bayi would compete again with Keino at the second All-Africa Games which were held in Lagos in Nigeria in January 1973. It would be interesting. On January 11th in a 1500m heat that included both runners, a slow and relaxed run witnessed Bayi take second place in 3:48.32, following Olympian Shibrou Regassa (Ethiopia), then Kip Keino jogging in third. Keino was quick to say that he had relaxed and simply wanted to make it to the finals. Keino assured the public that the finals would be very different from what had happened in the Heat. But perhaps all those years of running and victory had exacted a toll on the aging veteran. On January 13th, Filbert Bayi taking the lead from the start, beat Keino, winning in the finals in a commendable time of 3:37.18, yet another Tanzania national record. Shibrou Regassa was third. Notably, Bayi had suffered a bout of malaria just before the Games. Henceforth Africans and the rest of the world started to take a second serious look at this new Tanzanian phenomenon that had emerged from nowhere. Kipchoge Keino would retire from competitive sports in 1974 as an ITA (International Track Association) professional, but he was impressed by Bayi to whom he offered congratulations and encouraging words.

A string of wins in international competition, followed in 1973. In Paris, near the end of May, Bayi won in the 1000m and established an Africa record of 2:19.5. Then in Boras in Sweden in early June, Bayi won the 1500m in a relaxed 3:45.5. The next day in Strangnas also in Sweden, Bayi won in the 1500m in 3:44.6. Again in Sweden, this time in Stockholm, Bayi won in quite a fast 3:37.9 on June 12th.

Then on the June 14th, Bayi changed gears and went for the 800m in Potsdam in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Bayi was beaten by 2-time Olympian Dieter Fromm (GDR) into second place, but Bayi managed to establish a Tanzania record of 1:46.9.

A week later on June 21st, at the Kusocinski Memorial Meet held in Warsaw in Poland, Bayi won in the 1500m, finishing in 3:37.9. He then flew to Denmark to participate in the Aarhus Games. Here Bayi won the 1500m in 3:35.6, a new Tanzania record! Bayi was moving up fast and furiously! Danish Olympian Tom Hansen was second, and Olympian Rolf Gysin of Switzerland was third.

Only four days later, on June 28th at the World Games held in Helsinki in 1973, Bayi won the 1500m in what would be the world best time in the 1500m–3:34.6–yet another Tanzania record. This race was significant in that it included many notable international athletes that included Kenyans Mike Boit and Ben Jipcho, and Americans Steve Prefontaine and Dave Wottle, among others. Bayi would display to the world his signature way of running—take the lead with a fast pace right from the starting of the race!. Bayi had ran a blistering 53.6 in the first 400m, 1:51.6 at the 800m mark, and 2:52.2 at the 1200m mark! David Wottle (800m Olympic gold medallist) was second (3:36.2), and Ben Jipcho (Olympic silver medallist) was third (3:36.6).

By yanam49

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