Henry Rono, Record-Breaking Distance Runner From Kenya, Dies at 72

Henry Rono, a Kenyan distance runner who was unable to walk until he was 6 after a gruesome injury to his right leg when he was a toddler but went on to break four world records in just 81 days in 1978, died on Thursday in Nairobi. He was 72.

His death was announced by Athletics Kenya, an amateur athletic association. He died in a hospital, where he had spent 10 days with an unspecified illness.

Rono was twice denied shots at Olympic glory in his 20s, when Kenya joined boycotts of the Games in 1976 and 1980. Even so, he was celebrated as one of the country’s great athletes.

He made his mark on track and field history in 1978, as a 26-year-old sophomore at Washington State University, when he galloped into the record books for the 3,000, 5,000 and 10,000 meters and the 3,000-meter steeplechase, with its 28 barriers and seven water jumps.

“He was such a powerful guy — big barrel chest — and incredibly efficient,” Phil English, a former teammate at Washington State, said in an interview after Rono’s death with the Spokane, Wash., newspaper The Spokesman-Review. “The incredible thing about those world records is the versatility it takes — the speed for the 3,000 and the skill of the steeple, and then the far reaches of the 10,000. You just don’t see that kind of range.”

Rono’s remarkable success over such a short period made him an object of global fascination in the track world.

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