Nairobi – Legendary Kenyan athletics coach John Velzian, who laid the foundations for the country’s track and field success at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, died on Thursday in Nairobi aged 93 years.
Athletics Kenya president Jack Tuwei paid tribute to Velzian, the country’s first post-independence athletics coach, who helped establish the careers of double Olympic 1500m and 3000m steeplechase gold medallist Kipchoge Keino and Wilson Kiprugut at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I think nobody in our current environment can match his contributions to the development of athletics in our country and Africa,” said Tuwei.
British-born Velzian remained in Kenya after independence in 1963 and was employed as games tutor to improve the physical education programme in the fast-growing schools system.
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“I first met him in 1962 when he was coaching in Nyeri. He was very thorough in his coaching under the old British system and helped me to become the top athlete in the world,” Keino told AFP on Thursday.
After his retirement as national head coach at the 1968 Mexico Games, Velzian remained involved in the development of Kenyan athletics, including organising the 2007 World Cross-Country Championships and was appointed by World Athletics to head the East and Central Africa regional development centre in Nairobi.
World Athletics awarded Velzian a Coaching Lifetime Achievement Award in November 2011.
“In our lives, there have been few people as special as John Velzian,” World Athletics said in a statement.
“He was someone that we felt deeply connected to, and even though he is gone now, we feel his presence throughout our region, his passion in ensuring athletics development is promoted in each member countries within our scope and building blocks of the progress of African athletics in English speaking countries.”
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