Washington State University men’s track and field coach John Chaplin ’63 led the most successful sports program in Cougar history.
The Cougars went undefeated in dual meets nine seasons en route to a 202-17 record during his 21-year tenure. WSU won four Pac-10 outdoor championships, was NCAA runner-up four times outdoors, and claimed the 1977 NCAA indoor championship. Chaplin’s athletes earned 105 All-America certificates and 61 conference titles. Below are just a few of the many athletes he mentored and coached over his years with the program.
Read more about Chaplin and his legacy in “Athlete, coach, winner.”
TUARIKI JOHN DELAMERE: Tuariki “John” Delamere was a long jumper with an attention-grabbing technique. The athlete from New Zealand perfected a mid-air somersault for long jump, a maneuver that pre-Olympic champion Bruce Jenner and a handful of European athletes were experimenting with. Delamere had the longest recorded jump in a sanctioned meet using the mid-air somersault, and a ban on the technique effectively sealed his status as the technique’s world record holder. Read about Delamere in “Staying a jump ahead,” Fall 2016 issue.
JOSEPHAT KAPKORY: Kapkory claimed the 3,000-meter title at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1994, Kapkory captured the 10,000-meter title at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
SAMSON KIMOBWA: One of several Kenyan runners who went to WSU in the late 1970s, Samson set a 10000-meter world record of 27:30.5 on June 30, 1977, in Helsinki, Finland. The record was broken the following year by his fellow Cougar Henry Rono. Kimobwa was a three-time Pac-10 champion. He also won the 10,000-meter at the NCAA Division I championships in 1977. In 1977 he finished third at the AAA Championships. He was . After his running career, he became a schoolteacher and coached athletes like Ismael Kirui and Boaz Cheboiywo. Kimobwa died aged 57 in a Nairobi hospital on January 16, 2013, after being admitted the previous day with a stomach ailment.
PETER KOECH: The Long Crimson Line includes some of the world’s greatest distance runners of all time, including world record holder Peter Koech, who was one of the dominant collegians of his era before graduating from WSU in 1986 with a social science degree. When he concluded his career, Koech had earned 11 All-America certificates, captured five Pacific-10 Conference crowns and two NCAA Championships. His conference titles include three wins at 10,000 meters, one at 5,000m and a fifth at 1,500m which came in 1985 and was a rare feat as he doubled with a win in the 10,000m at the same meet. In 1984 he won his first NCAA title, a 3,000m victory, and then in 1985 he concluded his Cougar career by winning the NCAA steeplechase, a relatively new event for the talented Kenyan runner. In 1988 Koech captured the Silver Medal in the steeplechase at the Seoul Olympic Games, only to come back a year later to establish the event’s World Record in a time of 8:05.35, bettering the second oldest track record in the record book and taking the steeple title away from Cougar great Henry Rono. Koech and his family now live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
JULIUS KORIR: One of WSU’s most honored distance runners, Julius Korir captured the 1984 Olympic Gold Medal in the steeplechase and went on to become one of the greatest distance runners in Cougar history. Korir first stepped foot on the WSU campus in the winter of 1983 and immediately made a statement, capturing the Pacific-10 Conference steeple title as a freshman and was runner-up at the NCAA meet in the steeple and fifth over 5,000 meters. In the spring of 1984 Korir won every steeple race he entered until the final of the NCAA meet, where he finished second. He had even greater success that season in the 5,000m, winning every collegiate race, including the Pac-10 and NCAA titles. Later in the summer, at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Korir blitzed the steeple field in taking home Kenya’s only Gold Medal. His winning time in the final ranked him second on the WSU, Pac-10 and collegiate list behind former Cougar and countryman Henry Rono. Korir attended Kaptumo Secondary School in Kapsabet, Kenya.
JOHN NGENO: The pace of John Ngeno’s life since graduating from Washington State University in 1976 has probably slowed considerably, given his current position in Kenya as a government official who also enjoys life on his 14-acre farm. For many years, however, Ngeno was on a fast track as a record-setting collegiate and international distance runner. Ngeno, who has since retired from competitive running, was one of the very best distance runners in the world during his Cougar career, 1972-76. At the conclusion of his collegiate career, he held WSU, Pacific-10 Conference and collegiate records for races covering 5,000m, six miles, 10,000m and 21 kilometers. In 1975 Ngeno, a Kenyan native, was named the outstanding performer at the NCAA outdoor championships, capturing gold medals in both the three-mile and six-mile races. In all, Ngeno won seven indoor and outdoor NCAA titles. Only two other collegians ever won more titles than the 5-9, 145-pound Cougar thinclad. Often his championships were run in record-setting times. In 1974 he set the NCAA indoor meet mark over three miles, then broke his own record the following year. A year later, as a senior, he set the NCAA outdoor meet record at 10,000m. Ngeno was just as dominating in distance races at the Pac-10 outdoor meets, winning seven conference titles, including three consecutive six-mile races. Not limited to world-class times touring the oval tracks, Ngeno also captured the 1974 national AAU cross country championship over the 10,000 meter course. The first in a long line of world class distance runners from Kenya, Ngeno won his first NCAA title outdoors in 1964 at six-miles. In doing so he became the first black to ever capture an NCAA outdoor title more than one mile in length.
HENRY RONO: Perhaps at no time in the track and field world has one athlete gained so much attention so fast as Henry Rono. In 1978 he shocked those who follow track and field by establishing, in a span of 81 days, four world distance records. His streak began with a 5,000 meter record in Berkeley April 8, 1978 and ended June 27 in Oslo, Norway, with a 3,000 meter record. In between he set the 3,000 meter steeplechase record in Seattle May 13 and the 10,000 meter mark in Vienna, Austria, June 11. Rono’s accomplishments were not limited to those 81 days, however. He dominated college distance running during his cross country and indoor-outdoor competition, winning six NCAA titles and setting six collegiate outdoor records and four indoor marks. Following his record-setting spree in 1978 he received the following awards: Track and Field News athlete-of-the-year, Sport Magazine’s track athlete-of-the-year, AP European Sportswriters sportsman-of-the-year and North America winner of Helms Athletic Foundation World Trophy. Rono, 33, was a member of the 1980 Olympic team from Kenya, but missed competition because of the boycott. Shortly after receiving degrees in psychology and general studies from WSU in 1981, Rono broke his own world 5,000 meter mark, his fifth world record in a three-year span. (Read more about Rono in “Rono in a class by himself,” Washington Post, June 29, 1978)
RICHARD TUWEI: Tuwei, a Kenyan middle-distance runner and steeplechase specialist, became NCAA champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 1982. In the Commonwealth Games he was seventh in 1,500-meter race in Edmonton in 1978 and in 1982 in Brisbane he was tenth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. He reached the semifinals at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki in 1983 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
SAMUEL KIBIRI: 2000 U.S. men’s Olympic Track & Field team
Who have we missed from the Chaplin era of track & field? Let us know and we’ll add them.
Mike Smith writes:
It was my great honor to run for John Chaplin in the mid- to late ’80s, and in the midst of winning the NCAAs. The best guy on the team was GABRIEL TIACOH (’85 Econ., ’91 MBA). Gabe won NCAAs and was a silver medalist in the ’84 Olympics in LA where he ran for the Ivory Coast. On a team with a dozen guys who competed in the Olympics, Gabe was the gold standard who rose above everyone else. With all due respect to the enormous talent on the posted list, Gabe was the greatest athlete that I have seen in my 50+ years. Alas, he passed away not long after competing for WSU from TB.
[Editor’s note: Tiacoh passed away in 1991. Thank you for the reminder of his accomplishments.]