First Kenyan Woman to Win Commonwealth Medal After Running Barefoot With Petticoat

  • Sabina Chebichi running barefoot with a petticoat in 1972 (right) and at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974 (left)
    Sabina Chebichi running barefoot with a petticoat in 1972 (right) and at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974 (left)
    Mohamed 'Mo' Amin/Courtesy
  • Sabina Chebichi was nicknamed the ‘petticoat princess’ after the middle distance runner was thrust into the limelight at 14 years. 

    No one had ever heard of the teenager’s prowess until when she became famous for running barefoot in a green petticoat at a race in her institution, Mlimani Primary School. 

    Born in 1959 in Trans-Nzoia County, Chebichi began running in 1972 and won her first race a year later. 

    Chebichi was not deterred by lacking athletics equipment, running kit and shoes, like her classmates. 

    Sabina Chebichi was the ‘petticoat princess’ participating in the 800m race in 1972.
    Sabina Chebichi the ‘petticoat princess’ participating in the 800m race in 1972.
    Mohamed 'Mo' Amin

    She ran the women’s 800m in 02:16.8, and the women's 1500m in 4:40. 

    Athletics experts argued that the time she clocked in both races was within measurable distance of world records. 

    Chebichi was so determined to succeed that she also raced in the 4 X 400m relay and the 1500m races, showcasing her versatility. 

    Her name was covered widely in the newspapers, attracting the attention of Feisal Sherman, then Secretary of Kenya’s Amateur Athletic Association - KAAA (currently Athletics Kenya). 

    KAAA was founded in 1950 by Britons Sir Archie Erskine and Archie Evans. 

    Sir Erskine served as the first Chairman from 1950 to 1964, laying the foundation that saw Kenya feature at the Olympic Games for the first time in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia.

    He also led Kenya in participating in Tokyo Olympics in 1964 for the first time as an independent nation.

    Feisal Sherman, in the same spirit immediately sent a running kit and shoes to Chebichi who was selected to represent Kenya at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974. 

    She won bronze in the 800m Women’s race in 2:02.61 minutes, making her the first woman to win a medal for Kenya in athletics.

    Chebichi, however, finished 5th in the 1,500 Women’s race, clocking 4:18.56 minutes and 8th in the 4 x 400m Relay with a then personal best of 3:51.9 mins. 

    The legendary athlete was also selected to compete in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, held from July 17 to August 1 that year.

    Athletes and fans at the Olympic stadium in Montreal, Canada in July 1976
    Athletes and fans at the Olympic stadium in Montreal, Canada in July 1976.
    AP

    Kenya, however, joined more than 20 African and Arab countries to boycott New Zealand’s showpiece over apartheid in South Africa. 

    "I recognise the deep and genuine concerns felt by African states. At the same time, I wish to point out that the Olympic Games have become an occasion of special significance in humankind’s search for brotherhood and understanding," then United Nations secretary general, Kurt Waldheim stated. 

    Reports allege that Chebichi, later on, settled down after she conceived. Nonetheless, she had put Kenya on the global map, becoming a trailblazer for women in athletics.

    "No human is limited," Olympic Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge says.