Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Henry Rono Flashback- How Good Was He?

“I’ve been to the top of the highest mountain and then down to the bottom of the world,” says Rono. “Looking back now, I can remember what happened in 1978 (when he set four world records in 81 days, over 3,000 metres, 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and the 3,000 metres steeplechase), but then the next eight years are more or less a blank.”

What happened in 1978 was that Rono started drinking. Nothing excessive at first, but rather a simple indulgence into the post-race or off-season practice that was then fairly common in distance running culture.

In 1980, when Kenya boycotted the Olympics, Rono began cursing his fate and his luck, and the drinking become a real problem.

The following year his weight was fluctuating severely, and Rono was fast succumbing to alcoholism. He somehow managed to put a track season together, despite drinking daily, and late in the summer was invited to small meeting in Knarvik, near Oslo, for a crack at his 5,000 metres world record of 13:08.04. As soon as Rono arrived in Norway he promptly started drinking, and by all accounts got hammered drunk in the meeting hotel the night before the race.

He woke the next morning with a massive hangover, naturally enough. Filled with remorse, Rono went running, practically flat out, for over an hour in an effort to sweat the alcohol out of his system.

At 4pm, and paced by the British pair of Ian Stewart and a young Steve Cram, Rono produced one of the greatest world records in distance running history – given the circumstances – when he improved his record to 13:06.20, closing with a 56-flat last lap. It was to be his last world record and one of his last notable achievements on the track.

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