Months shy of the race that would crown a glorious career, John Ngugi received an offer that seemed too good to be true.

The Kenyan, fresh from collecting the third of his five world cross country titles, was lured to Indonesia with the promise of riches from a local apparatchik, an improbable bonus prize of $500,000 on offer if the world record could be claimed over 10 kilometres.

Pitted against his compatriot Paul Kipkoech, he was forced to send out an urgent request for shoes to be flown out to their island when he arrived without suitable footwear. That they barely fitted mattered little, as both men hunted down the bounty on offer as the stopwatch ticked over.

“Suddenly I felt like I was being blown away,” Ngugi recounts. It seemed as though a helicopter was pushing both men backwards, almost conspiratorially. Ultimately, he missed out on the jackpot by a single second. “I felt terrible because I needed the money,” he laughs, some 26 years on. “It was good money. I’m still getting over it.”

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