Filbert Sanka Bayi: Tanzania’s Greatest Athlete and the Tracks to the World Records
Legendary Kenyan athlete Hezekiah Kipchoge “Kip” Keino had in October 1968 under searing temperatures in the high-humidity and high-altitude Mexico City, and against medical advice because of his stomach ailments and weakness, won the Olympic gold medal in the 1500 meters (establishing a new Olympic record of 3min. 34.91sec.). Kip Keino even managed to bag the silver medal in the 5000 meters, finishing behind legendary Tunisian Mohamed Gammoudi, and ahead of the third Naftali Temu who had won the very first ever Olympic gold for Kenya by earlier winning in the 10000 meters. Keino had collapsed from weakness while competing in the 10000 meters, but would rise up and congratulate and hug his young team-mate at the finishing line.
A versatile, enthusiastic,Dr. Henry Oh Sets New World Record | laExpose (wordpress.com) patriotic, and determined middle- and long-distance runner, Kip Keino now in Munich in the summer of 1972 was now a 32 year-old veteran and an Olympian for a third consecutive time. But Keino, amidst the youthful competition, defied his age. In Mexico City, in 1968, only two of the 52 other competitors in the 1500m had been older than the then 28 year-old Keino. In Munich at age 32, Keino was very much the elderly statesman in the 1500m line-up. Furthermore, the astonishing Keino had only four months earlier started to embrace the 3000m steeplechase. And he did qualify in the steeplechase to compete for Kenya! Keino had taken the steeplechase seriously after he had found that the Olympic schedule would not allow him to compete in both the 1500m and the 5000m.
Compared to glorious Keino, a very unknown commodity in the person of Filbert Sanka Bayi was in Munich to represent another east African country–Tanzania. Keino was undoubtedly one of Bayi’s foremost idols and inspirations. Keino remains the most immortal name among African track athletes!
Filbert Bayi, an athlete with an “afro-hairstyle” and boyish looks, had grown up near Arusha on a farm in Karutu within sight of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bayi left school at age 17 and migrated to the capital Dar-es-Salaam. Bayi’s early running training was relatively crude. In the crowded, high-humidity capital, Bayi would pick out and sprint alongside a moving bus and rest when the bus was loading and unloading passengers—some form of interval training. In 1971 Bayi achieved a reasonably good 3min 52 seconds in the 1500m.
THE YEAR 1972
It was earlier in 1972, Bayi’s personal bests and national wins in the 1500m (3:45) and steeplechase (8:55) qualified him to represent Tanzania at the Olympic Games in Munich.
In Munich, Filbert Bayi, a tall 19 year-old lightweight, a Tanzania airforce technician just so happened to be scheduled to compete in the same two events that Kip Keino was enrolled: the 1500m and the 3000m steeplechase. And while Keino was the elder, Filbert Bayi was one of two 19 year-olds that were youngest of the steeplechase competitors. There would only be four heats, and the top three finishers in each round would advance to the finals. The heats took place on September 1, 1972. Bayi was drawn in Heat One, the same heat that included Keino. Tapio Kantanen of Finland won (with an Olympic Record of 8:24.8), Keino was second, and the third finals’ qualifier was Takaharu Koyama of Japan. Bayi was ninth with a time of 8:41.4 (a Tanzania national record) and therefore was out of the competition. Heat Two witnessed Kenya’s legendary Benjamin Jipcho win; in Heat Three another Finn Pekka Paivarinta won. The Fourth Heat was won by another Kenyan legend Amos Biwott who had won the steeplechase Olympic gold four years earlier. Biwott’s finish in 8:23.73 broke the Olympic record that had been established three heats ago! Notably, Biwott’s steeplechase win in 1968 would be the beginning of the consecutive dominance of the steeplechase by Kenyans at the Olympics (apart from the 1976 and 1980 Games which Kenya boycotted) that has yet to be shattere