Chelimo, who came from the Marakwet region of Kenya, was a Kalenjin tribesman in the Cherangani Hills, where the verdant tracks and 3,000m altitude provide some of the finest running country on earth.
The world cross-country championships at Aix-les-Bains, France, in 1990 gave Chelimo his first international success; he came second in the junior event. Such was the Kenyan dominance of that event - their team won 10 successive junior titles - that Chelimo was not especially noticed until that summer when he won the world junior 10,000m title on a sultry day in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, finishing 12 seconds ahead of his brother Kirui, then just 15, and waving to the crowd a full eight laps from the finish.
In 1991 Chelimo earned selection for the senior team at the world championships in Tokyo but, as is the Kenyan way, he was given the role of pacemaker for his compatriot Moses Tanui. Chelimo dragged the two of them clear of their main rival, Morocco's Khalid Skah, and Tanui duly sprinted away on the last lap for the title, Chelimo taking the silver medal.
At Barcelona the following year, Skah took his revenge over the Kenyans, but in controversial circumstances. The final came down to a race between Chelimo and Skah. With 1,200m remaining, the pair lapped another Moroccan runner, Hammou Boutayeb. The competition rules dictate that a lapped runner may not "assist" another runner, but Boutayeb not only stayed with the leaders but twice cut across Chelimo, giving an advantage to his compatriot. The Spanish crowd became incensed and the Swedish track judge, Carl-Gustav Tollemar, even came on to the track and attempted to pull Boutayeb off.
Skah sprinted away over the last 150m and crossed the line first but was instantly disqualified, to the delight of the crowd, and, for the next 14 hours or so, Chelimo was the Olympic champion.
The Moroccans, though, had immediately appealed and the following morning Skah was reinstated by the jury of appeal, which explained that rule 143.2, which forbade assistance, did not define a penalty. In other words, it was no rule at all. At the medal ceremony, Skah was greeted by boos from the crowd, who reserved their cheers for the quiet Kenyan.
In 1993 Chelimo broke the world 10,000m record in Stockholm, but the record lasted a mere five days. At the Stuttgart world championships that year, he again missed out on a title, unable to match his compatriot Tanui and a rising star from Ethiopia, Haile Gebrselassie. Again it was a controversial encounter, as Tanui's shoe came off when Gebrselassie stepped on his heels. Chelimo took the bronze medal.
According to his cousin, Kiptanui, the failures made Chelimo despondent. In 1996, he quit the sport and returned to his job in the army. He put on weight and drank too much. It took the encouragement of his friends, William Mutwol and Tanui, to start him running again and, on the paths and roads around his home, he got back into shape, his weight coming back down to within 5kg of his racing weight. There was no comeback, though. He was probably 29 when he died, although there is uncertainty as to his date of birth.
Chelimo leaves a wife, Monica, and four children.
Richard Chelimo, athlete, born February 24 1972 (?); died August 15 2001