Before the days of David Rudisha, someone else had to dominate the 800m distance. That man was Wilson Kipketer, a Kenyan-born Danish athlete, one of the greatest middle distance athletes of all time.
In 1990, after attending the infamous St. Patricks High School in Iten, Kenya, Kipketer traveled to Denmark, as a foreign exchange student studying electrical engineering. Little did he know, he would fall in love with the country and soon after apply for Danish citizenship. It was here where Wilson would start to take his athletics seriously.
After being fairly unheard of before, Kipketer entered the 1994 season in the shape of his life, ready to take the international scene by storm. He did just that, competing 18 times over the 800m discipline and only being bettered on two occasions, clocking a personal best and second fastest time of that year by any athlete in 1:43.29 – putting in him good stead to feature at the World Championships the year after.
The 1995 season followed a similar trait; Kipketer competed 12 times over the 800m, winning on 10 occasions and running under 1:43 twice – setting a new personal best of 1:42.87, making him the favorite for the Gold Medal at the World Championships, which he claimed in remarkable ease.
Although Kipketer was allowed to compete for Denmark at the World Championships the year prior, he was not allowed to represent Denmark at the 1996 Olympic games – due to his citizenship not being full. Perhaps this was Wilson’s chance for eternal Olympic glory, but we will never know. We will know, however, that no matter what Kipketer achieved in his career, an Olympic gold would always elude him, as he claimed the Silver medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney, and the Bronze medal four years later in Athens.
1997 was perhaps the most significant year in Kipketers career; starting off with a victory at the World Indoor Championships – setting a new indoor World Record in the preliminary rounds, only to better it in the final, clocking 1:42.67, a World Indoor Record that still stands today. 1997 was very much a year of fast times for Kipketer, as in July he equaled the standing World Record of 1:41.73 set by Lord Sebastian Coe a mere sixteen years earlier. After being agonizingly close to claiming the World Record as his own, Kipketer returned to the track with vengeance on the 13th of August, where he finally bettered the World record, running 1:41.24 in Zurich. That record, however, only stood for eleven days, as Kipketer bettered his own World Record in Cologne in a time of 1:41.11 – a World Record that would stand for thirteen years.
This was very much the peak of his career, and perhaps what he is most famous for. Even though he never claimed the ever elusive Olympic Gold Medal, over his career he claimed three World Championship Gold Medals, one World Indoor Championships Gold Medal and one European Championships Gold Medal, so he can still be considered as a ‘decorated’ athlete.