Never in the history of NCAA track has a group of foreign athletes so dominated an area of the sport as the Kenyans recently have the distance races.
Washington State, led by Kenyan Henry Rono, the world record holder in the steeplechase and the 5,000 meters, is a threat for the NCAA track and field title, and virtually all of its points is expected to come from four Kenyans in three events - the 5,000, the 10,000 and the steeplechase.
Going into the NCAA meet, Kenyans had accomplished the following:
Won the 5,000 meters the last three years (John Ngeno of Washington State in 1975 and Josh Kimeto of Washington State in 1976 and 1977.)
Won the 10,000 meters the last four years (Ngeno in '74 '75 and '76 and Samson Kimombwa of Washington State in 1977).
Won the steeplechase the last three years (James Munyala of Texas-El Paso in '75,'76 and '77).
Rono, the 26-year-old WSU sophomore, in a period of five weeks this season set world records in the steeplechase at 8:05.4 and 5,000 meters at 13:08.4. He also ran the 10,000 meters in the fastest time of the year -
In the NCAA trials in the steeplechase and 5,000 Thursday, Rono ran 18:21.79, respectively, both NCAA meet records.
Rono's WSU teammates and fellow Kenyans are Kimombwa, the world record holder in the 10,000 and the defending 10,000 champion here, who was also second in the 5,000 last year: Kimeto, the two-time defending 5,000-meter champion, and freshman Joel Cheruiyot.
Rono, who originally intended to try for an almost-unheard-of triple in the 5,000, 10,000 and steeplechase here, decided yesterday, on the urging of Washington State Coach John Chaplin, not to run in the 10,000. A nagging foot injury was cited as the reason for the scratch.
Rono, the odds-on favorite in the 5,000 and steeplechase, is part of the Kenya Connection, a pipeline of distance runners from that African country to Pullman, Wash.
It started with Ngeno, who had a cousin working at the school who told Chaplin five years ago to write Ngeno a letter and ask him to come.
For 13 cents postage, Chaplin got a three-time NCAA 10,000-meter champion, and the pipeline was functioning.
Ngeno had another cousin who knew Kimeto, and his cousin knew Rono, and so on, and now WSU is known as the Kenya Kougars instead of the Washington State Cougars.
The fact that WSU has become a national track power with Kenyan runners doesn't sit too well in some places in the United States, especially here in Oregon.
Oregon has been the distance-running capital of the U.S. for years and it built that reputation with mostly American runners.
Displeasure with the dominance of the WSU Kenyans spread and, last year, instead of just the usual racial slurs, some death threats were made.
Rono took it the hardest and developed an ulcer. He didn't run the 5,000 in the NCAA meet a year ago and dropped out of 10,000. He did finish second in the steeplechase, however.
This season, the Kenyans have secluded themselves and tried to become immune to all criticism.