Red carpet welcome for Team Kenya

By alex wafula
Sep 01, 2015
  • Ezekiel Kemboi, the steeplechase champion led returning Kenya athletes from Beijing, China. He was one of the three gold medalists who returned home. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • Music and dance was the celebratory mood as the Kenya athletics team returned from Beijing, China with seven gold medals. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • The elaborate welcome for the Kenya athletics team included stretch limousines which ferried some of the athletes from the airport. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

When the champions of the world touched down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Tuesday morning, everything came to a standstill.

The heroes of Kenya’s best ever performance at the World Championships in Athletics were home. Straight from social media to the actual scene of their arrival, the language was one; Kenya was a ‘Hotbed of medals’.

With the Zurich and Brussels Diamond League meets set for the next couple of days, only three of the seven gold medalist were present.

They were Javelin star, Julius Yego, shock men 400m Hurdles winner Nicholas Bett and the undoubted king of steeplechase Ezekiel Kemboi.

Kenya finished top of the world in the World Championships for the very first time with 16 medals; 7 gold, 6 silver, 3 bronze.

William Ruto, the Deputy President led a high-powered government delegation that welcomed the athletes at JKIA with sports cabinet secretary Hassan Wario, Nairobi Senator Mike ‘Sonko’ Mbuvi and his Elgeyo Marakwet counterpart Kipchumba Murkomen also present.

Other politicians also basked in the glory of Kenya's historic performance. They were Governors Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gishu), Cleophas Lagat (Nandi) and Alex Tolgos (Elgeyo Marakwet). Most of the athletes come from their counties.

There were eight stretch limousines at the airport, ready to whisk the athletes away snaking through the busy Mombasa road.

With the athletes touching down, the common rhythm as the dignitaries and team members spoke out their congratulatory messages was the ‘rare gold’ struck by Julius Yego in the javelin and sprinter Nicholas Bett in the 400m Hurdles.

Kinyua: Hurdles gold was a surprise

Joseph Kinyua, the team manager said it was because of the two ‘rare’ medals that Kenya topped the world. “From the way it went from heats to qualifying rounds we could see Mucheru and Bett were strong. We could see it all along, we knew we could get a medal but the gold was surprise more so from lane nine, it was a surprise,” Kinyua said.

Bett, who was the biggest revelation in Beijing is already plotting for the Olympics in Rio next year and has vowed to prepare even better and equip himself with more skills and training to conquer the world again in Rio.

“No Kenyan has ever won a gold in the hurdles and I was the first one. I thank God for achieving the feat and with the world leading time. My focus is now on the Brussels diamond league next week, then all eyes on Rio Olympics,” Bett said.

He added: “This is my beginning, last year I was at commonwealth but I did not even qualify for the final, I came back to the Africa championships and won bronze. Now focus is to work harder for a podium Olympics finish.”

Kinyua disclosed that Kenya had hoped to sweep ten golds in Beijing and said he was disappointed the team could not win the men and women’s marathon.

Another gold expected was the women 800m where Eunice Sum who has had a superb season in the Diamond League picked bronze. “If we would have picked the men and women marathon medals and add on Sum in the 800m, then we would have achieved our target. Sum was a bit unwell, and even getting that Bronze was good for her,” Kinyua noted.

The team manager also disclosed that Kenya’s kit sponsors Nike had offered to take up steeplechaser Virginia Nyambura and Bett for specialized training ahead of the Olympics after talks with Athletics Kenya.

The veteran administrator added they would be persuading the sponsor to pick up Yego and a few other field even athletes under the same program to ensure a bigger medal haul in Rio.

Yego expected to do well

Yego who achieved the world’s third longest throw in history was not surprised by his win. “I expected to do well, I expected to throw over 90 and I was sure the winning distance was 90 plus. I am happier because Africa won both the gold and silver in javelin for the very first time in history,” Yego said after being welcomed with a mammoth hug by his spouse and son at the airport.

Focus now shifts away from the concluded worlds to the Olympics next year with the government and Athletics Kenya being challenged to invest more in other disciplines other than the long distance races.

“Can we better this? That is the biggest question. We are proud of our athletes and we now need to diversify our games, not only long distance, we need to do more field activities, We need to get back to the sprints as well because not long ago we were a powerhouse,” Sports Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario said.

The team is expected to be hosted for a breakfast by the President on Thursday at State House as announced by his deputy William Rutto.