Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Richard Chelimo, (February 24 1972-August 15 2001), was a Kenyan athlete, and a former world and world junior record holder over 10,000m. However, he is best known as the athlete who was unjustly denied a gold medal in the infamous 10,000m at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
Family and tribe
Chelimo, who was born in the Marakwet region of Kenya, was a member of the Kalenjin tribe (known by some as the "running tribe"). He came from a noted athletic family, even amongst the tribesmen, his cousin, Moses Kiptanui, was a three-time steeplechase world champion, whilst his brother, Ismael Kirui , was twice world champion over 5000m.
Chelimo's first international success was in the junior section of the 1990 world cross country championship in Aix-les-Bains, France, where he took silver. Though Chelimo received little attention due to the Kenyan domination of the event, their team won 10 successive junior titles.
However, it was not long before the athletic community took notice of Chelimo's talent. Later that year he won the gold medal in the 10,000m at the world junior championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Chelimo won the race by 12 seconds from his own brother, Kirui, who was only 15 at the time.
Chelimo was selected in the Kenyan senior squad for the 10,000m at the 1991 world championships, which took place in Tokyo. As Kenya's second runner he was assigned the task of being pacemaker to Moses Tanui . He was successful in dragging Tanui clear of his main rival, Morocco's Khalid Skah, and on the final lap he allowed Tanui to sprint clear to take the gold medal.
The following year, at the Olympics, Chelimo met Skah again. With three laps remaining in the 10,000m final the two athletes were clear and battling for the gold medal. At this point the pair came to lap another Moroccan athlete, Hammou Boutayeb , who proceeded to stay with the leaders and twice cut across Chelimo in order to give his compatriot an advantage. This act was contrary to competition rules which stat that a lapped runner cannot "assist" another runner. These events incensed the Spanish crowd, and the Swedish track judge Carl-Gustav Tollemar attempted to pull Boutayeb off the track to no avail.
During the final 150m Skah sprinted away from Chelimo to win the race, and to the crowd's delight was disqualified. This meant that Chelimo was the Olympic champion. However, the Moroccans appealed against the disqualification and Skah was reinstated the next morning due to the fact that the rule under which he was disqualified did not define a penalty. Skah was reinstated because the rule wasn't technically a rule at all. During the medal ceremony Skah was loudly booed by the crowd, whilst Chelimo received a standing ovation.
In 1993 Chelimo broke the world junior and senior 10,000m world record, in a time of 27m 11.18s, in Stockholm. He was to hold the senior world record for only five days before it was broken again. He held the junior record for over 11 years before it was broken by Ugandan Boniface Kiprop at a Golden League meeting on September 3 2004, in a time of 27m 04.00s.
At the 1993 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, Chelimo once again failed to win gold at a major championships. He managed only third place as he could not match the pace of Tanui and, a new star from Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie. This was another controversial race as Tanui lost a shoe after Gebreselassie stepped on his heel; the Ethiopian went on to win the race.
Life after athletics
Chelimo retired from athletics in 1996, according to his cousin, Kiptanui, he retired after growing despondent following his failure to rise to the very top of the sport. He returned to his old job in the army and put on a lot of weight and began to drink excessively. However, his friends Tanui and William Mutwol encouraged him to return to training and get back into shape. Chelimo eventually got back down to within 5kg of his racing weight. His death from a brain tumour at the age of 29 prevented any comeback.
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