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Meet Amos Biwott, the father of Kenya’s steeplechase

Amos Biwott is regarded as the Kenyan father of 3,000m steeplechase following his first-ever Olympic Games gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City.

Born in 1945 in Nandi Count, Biwott edged out Ken Kogo in a 1-2 finish for Kenyan team, since then, Kenya has never lost any title in water and barriers race.

During the interview in his home, Biwott said he started his running in mid-1966 competing in 5,000m and 10,000m but I lost the titles during provincial games and decided to join steeplechase and did well.

“My running career started because of the school I used to learn, Mutwot primary school, which was 5km away from my home. I was the school timekeeper so I used to run to school in the morning to ring the bell. At lunchtime, the same was repeated for several years little did I know I was training for better things ahead. When athletics season came calling, I used to be the winner and I remembered that the way I used to run, was part of my training,” said the former Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase silver medalist.

He later joined Lemlokwo Secondary school, which had a similar distance and made timekeeper again.

“I was made timer keeper again in secondary school. So the training continued till I completed my secondary education and joined Kenya Prison though it was not my dream. I wanted to be a teacher,” said Biwott.

With just few years into prison warder’s job, he landed Kenya Team for Mexico team, then Munich went for Commonwealth Games in Edinburg winning bronze, Commonwealth in Christ church I was fourth before retiring 1978.

“I ran Olympics in 1968 and 1972 where I won gold and finished 4th respectively while Commonwealth I competed in 1970 I won bronze before finishing 8th in 1974 that was won by Jipcho,” said Biwott who still trains 2km daily to keep him fit.

The octogenarian said during their time, there was no prize money but they were proud to represent the country. After international games, he says they were only given transport back home and they were no rewards apart from certificates and medals won.

“There was no money but life then was cheap and affordable, unlike now days. By then one US dollar was kshs 7. Even when you had kshs 10, you were better side than any other thing but we didn’t care. Our country was our pride and mattered a lot to us,’” he added.

After retiring from athletics and quitting as a prison warder for not taking milk while service in Mandera and Garissa, Biwott was employed at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani as a caretaker before retiring in 2002. After retirement, he decided to become a farmer in his Nandi County home.

“Nowdays, athletics have money unlike us in the past. An athlete will only run one race and will come home driving a Prado or one race will earn him a whooping kshs 5 million. If God can change me to be a young man now, these young people cannot defeat me. I am so strong. They have used the money to build big houses and estates in this region from Kapsabet past Eldoret to Iten,” he said.

He lamented that as elders, they are forced sometimes to call their ‘sons’ as sir because of money.

“Even you are forced to greet them with two hands, calling your son sir. Sir for what, just because they have money? He drives a Pajero while you are walking. Sometimes he gives you a lift. Above all, we respect each other. Sometimes they drive in my compound; buy some soft drinks for me. We have good relationships.

During his career as an athlete, Biwott feared most Kogo then came Jipcho then Keino in steeplechase.

“I used running next to Kogo, whom a beat to win silver latter Jipcho came very fast breaking the world record, then Keino joined 3,000m steeplechase after dominating in 5,000m. He came with force and edged as from track. He used to compete with the late Naftali Temu. I don’t know why Keino left 5,000m to compete in 3,000m steeplechase. He came ran and defeated me and got me out of the lane. Though we were good friends up to now we are still good friends,” added Biwott.

At the same, he remembers competing with Germany international Brian, who was his main competitor before the arrival of Jipcho and Keino, who he claimed looked down upon me.

“Brian and Kerry O’Brien looked down upon me because they had world records but once I defeated them, they all retire. But they were not as serious competitors like Kenyans in steeplechase. Mimi ni Babayao in steeplechase,” he claimed

Recounting his life as a prison warder, he says it was not good at all. It is the only job he never enjoyed. He claims it was full of tribalism, ethnicity and nepotism.

“I wanted to be a teacher after I enrolled at St. Joseph’s Teachers College in Kitale after school but then Kenya Prison Commissioner Andrew Saikwa picked me from college and enrolled me to prison together with Billy Kosgey. After some changes in prison, I was taken to Garissa while Jipcho was taken to Shimo La Tewa.  In Garissa life was too harsh for me and I decided to quit. In Mandera, you can’t take milk yet you have so many dairy cows at home,” remembered Biwott.

With his career athlete, none of his children has taken the baton to extend the legacy. Biwott who met his wife Cherono Maiyo during Munich Commonwealth Games after finishing the 8oom finals has no child that took over the athletics as their career choice. But his brothers have athletes like Purity Chemesunde who even got American scholarship after dominating in indoor games.

Born on July 1st 1945, Biwott said on his family tree that lacks an athlete: “In my family, we have no runner. As you know positive and positive can’t attract and that is why this home has no runner. My wife was an athlete just like me, all of us are positives. Better was negative hence the results.”

He advised young people to avoid use of drugs that may kill their career and the nation banned from international competitions.

“Young people should train, we ran without shoes and we won, they have doctors, our days they were nowhere. If you were injured, we used herbs to treat ourselves. Our young people should train because they are our pride. Forget too much alcohol and concentrate in athletics,” he advised

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