How I Hunted Down Four World Records in 81 Days in 1978
The four world records were achieved in 81 days. It took all the footage of TV's, radios, and newspapers around the world. No publications had ever published anything like this. At the end of the session, I was ranked number one, the athlete of the year, against other sports figures in the world when the four events were brought down with new world records within three months: 5k, 3k Steeplechase, 10k, and 3k. The media has been bombarding me with a lot of questions ever since. I say I didn't have to have a set formula like they do nowadays, where a meet director lines up pace makers and pulls out Kenyans in the race to settle down Moroccans and Ethiopians to break records, and sometimes, it is impossible for them to meet the record. My breaking world records were according to my own formula, and it was enjoyment. What beautiful emotions! What a pleasure! I was stable all the way. I had ups and downs. I had a chance to lead.
I told my coach, Chaplin, "I'm going to break four world records this year."
"The world will say you are crazy," Chaplin said. I wheeled around and I said, "Stay tuned. I will be kicking up the dust."
The first world record of 5000 meters was set at Berkeley, California on April 8, 1978. National Coach Mike Kosgei witnessed it that afternoon when he saw me removing four and a half seconds from the New Zealander, Dick Quax. Unlike Quax's way of breaking when he just took a tip of a second, I felt I had the world by the horns. It was my greatest emotional joy of the day. We were hanging and talking wildly, like crazy, at that moment. This was what I was looking for. I felt I had entered the enjoyment of the world of running.
"I will be telling my folks when I go to Kenya I have not seen anything like this," said Kosgei.
The following month came. It was May 1978. Kosgei invited me and his friends for supper before the Seattle dual meet. We were celebrating for the upcoming 3000 meters steeplechase in May 13, 1978. He saw me jotting down on a piece of paper; the prediction time: 8:4 minutes.
At the Seahawks Track stadium in Seattle, Washington, during that stormy season, the world record for the steeplechase was taken by two and half seconds from Kanterude Kadenan of Sweden. That rainy day didn't change anything; the world record went down as it was planned.
"How come you seem like you didn't do anything? You are not smiling," said Kosgei. It became my conviction that letting too much out of my mouth is not going to cut it. I said, "Not yet, Two to go."
The following month, I traveled to Europe. As I was at the airport in Vienna getting into taxi cub, the Austrian press surrounded me, "Just one question. What time are you putting down tomorrow in 10k?" I told them 27:22 minutes, and they let me leave.
During the 10,000 meters, few other runners were among us. The 1976 Olympian Jos. Hermann ended up placing himself in second position. He ran just slightly under 28 minutes, and that was what he was there for. He seemed like he was contending with his time. Half of these 10,000 meters went hardly slow as we heard announcement speaker; "You are off the world record by 4 seconds" I said Oh! It is about time to pick it up." I ran the last half at a high speed and put 56 seconds on the last lap to complete 25 laps. It was my number three world record, 27:22 minute. My countryman Samson Kimobwa's world record I slashed by 8 seconds on June 11, 1978. The meet director screamed out loudly and cried. He couldn't believe what I promised him had came true.
Came the fourth world record in Oslo, Norway for the 3000-meter. My roommate, Olympian medalist Dr. Mike Boit, and I woke up early that morning for our warm up in that green mountain forest of Norway. "It looks like we have done enough warm up," said Dr. Boit. Let us climb this hill a few times. "Boit accepted reluctantly! For how long?" I told him 45 minutes would steam us up.
"Are you going for the world record today?" I said, "Yes, after this hill" When we were heading back to the hotel, Dr. Boit kept asking me questions. "Why so much intensive warm up?" I said, "Just wait. I will take the world record today by 3 or 5 seconds."
The Norwegian press already knew the fourth world record would definitely go down that evening, so they didn't bothered to asked me the strategic plans of setting world record. They introduced me to the crowd. The whole stadium was very quiet. You could hear a pin drop. We are going to witness the fourth world record broken by Henry Rono as he gets the history books this evening." At the end of 3000 meters and they announced the new record was set, the whole stadium came alive with voice like thunder that came all at once.
The evening of June 27, 1978, 30,000 spectators saw the 3000 meters start with the minimal pace at the beginning blowing silently like water in the river. Then it was not enough paces of to show of a world record. The front runners took the lead and with their effort, completed the first mile in 4:04 minutes. I noticed the pace felt like a snails pace, and they were gasping for air. Suddenly, I thought perhaps the world record might be attainable, and it was true. I came from the back like a rocket, pulled the pace to 50 meters ahead of every runner, and held the pace at high speed for three and a half laps. As I pulled myself in front, "They looked like they were standing, said Boit. I rounded up with three and half minutes. The Briton Franden Fosters 3000 meters world record came to an end that day. Those who never saw my smile before, they saw it that day. I ran around the stadium twice, shaking every person I could meet with joy. Then I was counting 3k, 3k ST, 5k and 10k. It was emotional joy knowing that my dream had come true.
When Western world journalists kept bombarding me with a lot of questions about how I did it my running compared to with Cabrie Saliesie and the way Kenyans were dominating running around the globe, I answered them, "Have you forgotten how four world record events fell in 81 days?" The Kenyan runners have not forgotten their heritage. When you have the right formula, you get the right answer, unlike the Moroccan and Ethiopian runners who set up their equations with two unknown variables; and in most cases, they appeared to be on their way to world records, but in the end, they produced nothing.
The Track & Field reporters asked to compare Cabrie Saliesie and me. I answered. "The two have different tastes. One has pace makers to meet world records, and the other uses formula. Oh! I almost lost four-world records due to my foolish pride if thought I was crazy. I had my time. I had a chance to lead. I had beautiful days of running that money couldn't buy: the 81 days of joy running the world. I was stable all the way and counted on my blessings. It was a wonderful 81 days.