Meeting Henry Rono

The great Henry Rono (left) signs an autograph for University of Portland Men's Cross Country / Track & Field Head Coach Rob Conner (right), circa 2011. 

The great Henry Rono (left) signs an autograph for University of Portland Men's Cross Country / Track & Field Head Coach Rob Conner (right), circa 2011. 

I've only been star struck twice in my life.

Once was when I first met legendary coach Frank Gagliano in Eugene, Oregon during his early days as Head Coach of the Oregon Track Club Elite. The other was in 2011 at the USATF Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico when University of Portland Coach Rob Conner and I bumped into the great Henry Rono.

Mr. Rono was kind and generous that day. He spent 10-15 minutes with Rob and I. To be honest, RC and I both geeked out as running nerds tend to do when in the presence of track & field royalty. We shook his hand, got his autograph, several pictures with him, and asked him a couple quick questions about his world record races.

In my opinion, Henry Rono is the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time). Hands down. He famously set 4 world records over 3000m, 5000m, 10,000m and the 3000m steeplechase within a 3 month period in 1978. I still cannot comprehend the feat. It is mind-boggling.

His lifetime best marks in the 3K (7:32), 5K (13:06), and 3K steeplechase (8:05) would still win diamond league and World Championship races today — nearly 40 years since his prime. G.O.A.T.

Rono held the 3,000m steeplechase world record for 21 years. His ownership of the record surpasses the next longest owner, current world record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen, by almost a decade. G.O.A.T.

His first world record came in an early April collegiate triangular meet vs. Cal & Arizona State. He ran 13:08 for 5,000m, solo.  G.O.A.T.

Weeks later in Seattle, in another college dual meet, with swirling winds and steady rain, without any pacemakers, he ran 8:05 over steeple barriers for 3,000m. Another world record. G.O.A.T. 

Put these two races in context. How many solo 13:08 5Ks and 8:05 Steeples have we seen in the last 5, 10, 15, or 20 years from either collegiate or professional runners? Zero. Marks as fast or better have all been ran with deep fields of top-shelf international talent at diamond league or world championship races, and the former with the assistance of pacemakers. 

However, even more impressive is his 3 decade battle with alcoholism turned sustained sobriety. In 2007 Runner's World did a long-form expose on Rono. It is a great piece and worth the12 minutes to read. You can read more stories about Rono, many written by him, here on his website.

I hope to cross paths again with Henry Rono and be lucky enough to get another 10-15 minutes with him. Maybe I'll show restraint and not waste the majority of it dorking out — but probably not.


Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm

Jonathan Marcus