WSU track legend Kimobwa passes way

SAMSON KIMOBWA

SAMSON KIMOBWA, one of the great long distance runners in Washington State and NCAA track history and part of WSU's renowned "Kenya Connection," died this wee in Nairobi, Athletics Kenya announced. The 58-year-old high school teacher was inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame this past fall.

Details of his death were few. Athletics Kenya said he complained of a stomach ailment on Tuesday and died Wednesday.

"We have lost a role model, a colleague and person who inspired many young athletes," Patrick Sang of Athletics Kenya told Reuters.

Kimobwa (whose last name was spelled Kimombwa in his college days) was at WSU from 1975-80. In the span of a couple of weeks in 1977 he captured the NCAA 10,000m outdoor title and then set the world record for the 10,000 meters with a time of 27 minutes 30.47 seconds at a world meet in Finland. He was the first African ever to set the 10,000 -meter record. His mark stood for a year, when it was broken by friend, fellow Cougar and Kenyan countryman Henry Rono.

Kimobwa and Rono were part of WSU's procession of world-class runners, starting with John Ngeno, who dominated the distance events in the 1970s and early 80. They were recruited to Pullman out of Kenya's Great Rift Valley by track coach John Chaplin.

When opposing coaches grumbled about Chaplin's unconventional, globe-wide recruiting efforts, the Cougar head man saw fit to erect flag poles around Mooberry Field. During meets, he would fly the colors of every country represented on his team.

The Kenyan Cougs were so good that Sports Illustrated devoted a lengthy feature story to them in 1977.

Kimobwa and Rono used to log more than 100 training miles a week on the streets and side roads of Pullman and Whitman County.

Kimobwa was small -- 5-foot-6 and 121 pounds -- and soft spoken, but he left a very large mark. By the time he graduated in 1980, he had garnered nine All-America certificates, captured three conference titles and had eight top-five finishes, including No. 1 in the '77 10,000 meters, in the NCAA championships.

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