Joe Keeper - Manitoba's Greatest Runner ?

Originally written July 2008
Here is someone who I think is a Great Manitoban !
Joseph Benjamin “Joe” Keeper (1886-1971)
MB Sports Hall of Fame

Joe Keeper, a member of Norway House Cree First Nation, was born at Walker Lake in 1886. At the age of 13 he was sent to the Indian residential school in Brandon.

Keeper took an interest in athletics, his first race was a second place finish at an indoor mile event in Brandon in. Principal Rev. Joseph Jones saw his raw talent and offered to be his coach. The following year Keeper was off to Winnipeg to join the North End Athletic Club.

In 1911 Keeper set a Canadian ten-mile record of 54:50 and was selected as a member of the 1912 Canadian Olympic Team participating in both the 5,000 m and 10,000 m races. In the 5,000 m he finished second in his semifinal and came eighth in the final. In the 10,000 m he finished second in his semifinal and fourth in the final. No Canadian runner since has finished fourth or higher in an Olympic 10,000 m event. His time of 32:36 is only 5 minutes off today's Canadian 10,000 m record !

On a related note, the 1912 Olympics were the games that Native American Jim Thorpe won both the the decathlon and pentathlon. The IOC website says he is considered the greatest all-round athlete in history for the feat. Another Native American, Louis Tewanima, won silver in the 10,000 m in a time that stood as a U.S. record for over half a century. Both were members of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School track team.

Keeper continued to race but there wouldn’t be another Olympics for him as he joined the army in 1916. While serving in France he received the Military Medal for bravery.

Returning north after the war, Keeper worked for the Hudson Bay Co. Since his death on September 21, 1971 he has been inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and each Spring the Manitoba Runners’ Association hosts the Joe Keeper Memorial Run.

Image: Keeper won both the one mile and three mile run in the 1918 Dominion Day Canadian Corps sports day races.

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