• Ouko brought glory to Kenya in the sprints, where he won silver in 4x400m in Mexico City in 1968, a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics and a double gold medal at the 1970 British Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Wales (4x400m and 800m).
• The surviving members of this great sprint team are Charles Asati, Hezekiah Nyamao and Thomas Saisi.
Within a span of one year, Kenya has lost yet another athletics legend. Robert Ouko died on Sunday, aged 70, after a protracted battle with diabetes.
A member of the golden era of Kenyan athletics, when the East African nation emerged as a global powerhouse of the sport, that lasted until the advent of dope-filled scandalous era, Bob Ouko remained stoic in the face of great physical pain, financial struggle and domestic issues that would have broken any person long time ago.
Naftali Bonn died last November, pioneer Olympian Nyantika Maiyoro and John Mayaka followed in quick succession in February and Daniel Rudisha in March.
He remained focused throughout his battle with diabetes, hoping from his home in Kerarapon, Ngong, to nearby hospitals, mainly Coptic Hospital, where fellow Olympians led by Rose Tata Muya, Athletics Kenya (AK) officials and a generation of athletes he inspired and brought up, but have since retired, assisted him.
Ouko brought glory to Kenya in the sprints, where he won silver in 4x400m in Mexico City in 1968, a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics and a double gold medal at the 1970 British Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Wales (4x400m and 800m).
The surviving members of this great sprint team are Charles Asati, Hezekiah Nyamao and Thomas Saisi. Julius Sang, with whom he won 4x400m relay in Munich died in 2004.
He was among the pioneer student-athletes to obtain scholarships to the United States, where he attended North Carolina under the great coach LeRoy Walker. Others who joined American colleges as student-athletes were Stephen Machuka, Julius Sang, Patrick Onyango, Tom Eshikati, Phillip Ndoo and Mike Boit, now a professor at Kenyatta University. He served as a long-serving official of the then Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA), a precursor of Athletics Kenya (AK), serving under Prof Sam Ongeri and briefly under the late Paul Boit.
Immediately after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, KAAA orchestrated an internal campaign against Ouko that led to his suspension from the association. He, however, fought against the accusations of fraud and diverting athletes’ earnings until he was vindicated. But instead of being reinstated to his position, which was already taken by David Okeyo, the then Permanent Secretary for Culture and Sports, the late B.M. Macharia, appointed him as Executive Secretary for Kenya National Sports Council (KNSC).
As a KAAA official, Ouko started as Assistant Secretary under Isaiah Kiplagat (deceased), who was Secretary-General. When Kiplagat, then a senior Kenya Prisons Service officer, transferred to North Eastern and could not, therefore, run KAAA effectively, Ouko stepped in, even doubling as treasurer.
A strict disciplinarian who brooked no laziness, Ouko was always accused of riding roughshod against people he perceived as not up to the task. This made him very unpopular with many an athletics official of the day. Athletics representation, now known as agents, emerged during his era, and not many liked him.
He took his strict work ethic too religiously, which felled him when agents accused him of fraud, accusations which the investigators did not prove, hence his appointment as the first and only Executive Secretary of KNSC. He did not last long at KNSC, leaving shortly after the 1991 All Africa Games in Cairo. He then ventured into hospitality, when he ran the then-popular Arturo Restaurant in Nairobi’s CBD.
After that, he retired into a quiet life in Ngong area, where the late Prof George Saitoti, then area MP, picked him to lead a vigilante group in the Kerarapon neighbourhood. At Ngong, he mobilised athletes to venture into real estate investment, which they still derive their incomes from to-date.
In the past decade, Ouko lived a lonely life, after parting with his wife Dr Jennifer Riria, now a global figure in the financial world, having started the Kenya Women’s Finance Trust after an illustrious career as a University lecturer.
He was always with retired athletes, mainly from Gusiiland and other veterans who called on him for consultations or merely to keep him company as they relived the good old days.
Ouko started Kenya Olympians Association and the Gusii Legends, who helped a lot with mobilising finances for his medication.
He joins the great athletes and officials who did duty for Kenya at home and abroad with distinction, like Phillip Ndoo, Joshua Okuthe, Charles Mukora, Paul Odhiambo, Henry Aluoch, Kiplagat, John Kasyoka, Manaseh Oisebe, Musembi Mbathi, Paul Boit, David Morgan, Chief Muteru and Tom O’mwombo, Herina Malit, and those from his Gusiiland like John Mayaka, Nyantika Maiyoro, among others.