Kenya’s 50-year-old rich heritage in sport is etched in Olympic and Commonwealth glory across all disciplines and now, a new generation of sportsmen and women are writing a fresh chapter in this great story.
Kenya has had abundant sporting success that inspires citizens across all generations.
The Rugby Sevens team is world class and recognised as one of the best performances as the country walked into the Jubilee year. It is the most prized sporting team in the nation, well ahead of another superb outfit, the National Women’s Volleyball team that, in the past decade, has ruled as the absolute queens of the game in Africa and a perennial qualifier for the World Championships and the Olympic Games.
So successful was the Kenya Rugby Sevens team, right on the stroke of the Jubilee year, that they finished fifth on the log in the 2013 International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series and will thus be only the third Kenyan side ever to compete in a team sport at the Olympic Games. The rugby team will have a direct entry into the 2016 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) Olympic Games.
Previously, only the country’s men’s hockey team and the women volleyballers had ever represented Kenya in team sports at the Olympics.
In some other non-Olympic sports, Kenya’s has historically shown vibrancy. Motor rallying if one of them. The Safari Rally occupies a large chapter in the history of the world’s motor sport. Launched before Kenya’s independence – it was first held from May 27 to June 1 1953 – the Safari Rally was for decades a regular feature held annually during the Easter period. The Safari was always a part of the World Rally Championship (WRC) until 2002.
But drawing from a sporting legacy of the popular Safari, motor sport in Kenya, especially rallying, continues to thrive. Indeed, after a slight dip due the country’s loss of the WRC status, enthusiasm was on the rise again at the dawn of the 50th Independence celebrations.
A thriving Kenya National Rally Championship (KNRC) of several rounds staged in different locations in the country, is financially well supported by Kenya Commercial Bank and healthy entry lists of up to 60 cars.
The Jubilee anniversary witnessed an eruption of superb athletics performances.
David Rudisha became the greatest 800m runner in history, breaking his own world record at the Olympic Stadium in London in 2012. He became the first man in history to run two laps of the athletics track in under one minute 41 seconds, finishing in 1:40.91.
Rudisha first broke the world record on August 22, 2010, shattering Wilson Kipketer’s 800m World Record two days before the anniversary of that record with a time of 1:41.09 at the ISATF meeting in Berlin, Germany. Just a week later, he broke the record again at the Rieti (Italy) Diamond League Meeting, lowering it to 1:41.01.
In November 2010, at the age of 21, he became the youngest ever athlete to be declared World Athlete of the Year.
Ezekiel Kemboi was acclaimed as the absolute “King of Steeplechasing” after winning the 2012 Olympic Games title, having won Gold in Athens in 2004. But his stunning victory in Moscow at the 2013 World Championships mesmerised the world with his unbroken hold to the title (thrice), starting in Berlin in 2009 and then in Daegu in 2011.
Kenyans’ faith in their athletes has been maintained through the 50 years of independence. The promise started in pre-independence. Our athletes took part in their first Olympic Games in 1956 (Melbourne) and the first (Empire) Commonwealth Games in 1958 (Cardiff, Wales).
Athletics competition continued to be the blue ribald of Kenyan sport. A non-stop stream of world-beating results by independent Kenya since 1963, coming from All Africa Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships and the Olympic Games.
In Independent Kenya’s history of athletics, Kipchoge Keino, the Gold medal winner in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games, is regarded the greatest of all times because of the medals and the early records he held shortly after 1963.
But the non-drying stream of victorious performers at the Olympics, World Championships, Commonwealth Games and All Africa Games included: Naftali Temu, Amos Biwott, Julius Sang’, Ben Jipcho, Charles Asati, Henry Rono, Julius Korir, Julius Kariuki, Billy Konchellah, John Ngugi, Peter Rono, Paul Ereng’, Douglas Wakiihuri, Mathew Birir, Moses Kiptanui, Catherine Ndereba, William Tanui, Asabel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi, Eliud Kipchoge, Wilfred Bungei, Pamela Jelimo, Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei, Samuel Wanjiru, Sally Kipyego, Priscah Jeptoo, Vivian Cheruiyot, Abel Kirui, Nancy Jebii Jelagat and Isabella Ochichi.
It has been 50 years of excellence for Kenya at the Olympics. The 2006 edition in Beijing, China, and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, stand out as the most lucrative in terms of gold medal hauls, a high six and five respectively.
Other outstanding performances have been in swimming, where in 2012, Jason Dunford reached the unprecedented stage of an Olympic Games final. The other that shook the world was in cycling where the Kenya-born and initially nurtured Chris Froome won the biggest of all cycling races — the 2013 Tour de France.