On this day in 1978, Henry Rono of Kenya sets a new record for 3,000m steeplechase (8:05.4), the third of the four records he broke within 81 days in the year.
Born on 12 February 1952, in Kapsabet into the Nandi tribe, Rono started running while at primary school. Starting in 1976, he attended college in the US at Washington State University in Pullman, along with his compatriot Samson Kimobwa, who broke the 10,000 m world record in 1977.
Rono was mentored on the Palouse by Cougar head coach John Chaplin. More Kenyan runners later enrolled at WSU, including Bernard Lagat, Mike Kosgei, and Patrick Muturi.
The peak of Rono’s running career was the 1978 season.
In a span of only 81 days, he broke four world records: 10,000 m (27:22.5), the 5000 m (13:08.4), the 3000 m steeplechase (8:05.4), and the 3000 m (7:32.1); an achievement unparalleled in the history of distance running.
He lowered the 10,000 record by almost eight seconds, the 5000 by 4.5, the steeplechase by 2.6, and the 3000 by a full three seconds. That August, he also won the 5000 m and 3000 m steeplechase gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Canada at Edmonton.
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 six seconds off the NCAA meet record for the steeple. When he ran the steeplechase final the next day, he won in 8:12.39, taking another six seconds off the steeplechase mark. He won 10,000 m and 3000 m steeplechase gold medals in July at the All-Africa Games.
Although he was never quite as dominant as he was in 1978, Rono continued to run and compete at the same high level for the next four years, running the world’s fastest 5000 meters of the year (13:19) and winning the NCAA cross country championships in 1979, running one of history’s fastest 10,000 meters races in 1980 (27:31.68), having a strong year in the 5000 meters with several high quality races, including another 5,000 m world record (13:06.20) in 1981, and running history’s third fastest 5000 meters (13:08.9) as well as twice running under 27:30 to come within seconds of his world record for 10,000 meters in 1982.
OTHER EVENTS OF INTEREST ON THIS DAY
1890: Lord Salisbury offers Helgoland to Germany in exchange for Zanzibar, Uganda & Equatoria.
1958: French settlers riot against French army in Algeria.
1993: Methane gas explosion in Secunda coal mine South-Africa, kills 50.
2019: Former President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir is charged in connection with the deaths of protesters the previous month.
2020: Every African country now has cases of COVID-19 as Lesotho becomes the last county on the continent to record a case.