Friday, 16 March 2012

Road to Olympics : 1968 Mexico Games - Kenya sees Gold !

After participating in 3 consecutive Olympic Games, the country was slowly yearning for better achievements and for this the country's sports personalities were well rewarded. Mexico City - Mexico was also a first of many sorts and it earned a mixed bag of fortunes.

Mexico 1968 - image from
Let's look at the facts and figures from the Games;

Figures & Results:
'Speed-Cop' Kipchoge Keino - image from Rich Clarkson
  • 5556 participants from 112 countries was a marked improvement from the Tokyo Games '64;
  • 172 events were held in 20 sports disciplines;
  • Kenya participated in 4 sports disciplines - Athletics, Boxing, Hockey and Shooting;
  • Kenya was placed 14th overall, a major improvement on the 1964 Games where she placed  35th.
  • Kenya won 3 Gold namely; Kipchoge Keino-1,500m (M), Naftali Temu-10,000m and Amos Biwott-3000m steeplechase (which was to become Kenya's mainstay for any major events she participated in) ; 4 Silver; Wilson Kiprugut-800m, Kipchoge Keino-5,000m , Ben Kogo-3,000m steeplechase and the 4x400m men's team ( Daniel Rudisha, Charles Asati,Naftali Bon and Munyoro Nyamau); 2 Bronze; Naftali Temu-5,000m and Philip Waruinge -Featherweight boxing;
  • Philip Waruinge was awarded the Val Barker Trophy for the Most Outstanding boxer 'pound-for-pound', despite winning the bronze in Featherweight. He remains the only African boxer to have won the trophy to date. 
  • Kenya's Hockey team finished 8th overall, a drop from the 6th position from Tokyo Games;
  • One John Harun (Mwau) was ranked 76th in Shooting's Mixed Small -Bore Rifle, Prone 50m. (He's currently an MP in Kenya's Parliament having had an illustrious career in the Kenya Police, Interpol as well as the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission).
Interesting Facts:

  • As quoted in an online forum, this was the first Olympic Games to have 'first large-scale incursion of politics directly in the Olympic venues'.
  • Mexico was the first developing country to host the Olympics. It was also at its 'highest altitude' ever at 2,240m (7,350 ft) a.s.l.(above sea level).
  • Tommie Smith and John Carlos - US 200m (gold & bronze winners respectively)sprinters raised their fists clothed in black gloves during the medal awards ceremony- as a symbol of protest against human rights violation to the Black populace in United States. They also asked Australia's Peter Norman to wear a badge in solidarity with them. This cost them a life ban from any future Olympic Games or IOC-related events which was a bit too harsh if you ask me...
  • Also joining in political protest was one Vera Caslavska - from former state Czechoslovakia ( now Czech & Slovak Republics after fall of communism in Eastern Europe) - her silent protest during medal awards was against Soviet invasion of the state.
  • As noted before, Mexico City has the highest altitude ever for an Olympic event at 2,240m a.s.l - some in athletics were worried about its effects on the athletes including Kenya's own 'speed cop' Kip Keino but this turned out to a blessing in disguise with record-breaking performances from some of the other events.
  • Bob Beamon (US) leapt 8.90m in the men's long jump to what would be one of athletics' most enduring world records. It still is the Olympic record.
  • Sequence of Fosbury Flop - image from
  • Dick Fosbury (US) won the high jump with the unconventional Fosbury Flop. This would eventually be adopted by most if not all high jumpers.
  • One Jacques Rogge (current IOC President) represented Belgium for the first in 3 Olympic Games appearances in yachting. 
  • John S. Akhwari(Tanzania) finished the men's marathon with a dislocated knee and this became a lasting symbol of the Olympic Games spirit - quipped here saying "my country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race, they sent me to finish the race. He is currently an Olympic Goodwill ambassador.
  • Tlateloclo massacre - this happened 10 days to the opening of the Games and almost derailed the event. 44 people were killed as students and civilians rioted against 'repressive actions and blatant violation of university autonomy' by the Mexican government. A blown-up kite was flighted during the Games with the black shadow representing a 'silent protest' by the students.
  • Drug-testing debuted to check on performance-enhancing drugs which was becoming a thorn in the flesh for amateur sports.
All in all, the Games marked an improved performance from Kenya and many African countries as most continued enjoying their newly-found independence from their colonial masters.
The Games had now become a major political platform for many States which knew that with the world glued to the television and other media channels, it was the perfect place to send out whatever message - be it silent, symbolic or otherwise.
Commercialisation of sports was also at its formative stages and going into the 1970s, this would form the basis of future sports business for most if not all sporting disciplines and events.

International Olympics Committee
National Olympic Committee-Kenya
Britannica Encyclopedia

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