Emotional reunion as AK honours Kenya’s pioneer athletes
Chief athletics writer, at Nyayo Stadium
Emotions ran high as old friendships were rekindled at the Athletics Kenya (AK) 70th anniversary celebrations held Tuesday at the Nyayo National Stadium.
Kenya’s founding athletes, some of whom could barely walk were reunited as the federation celebrated seven decades since its inception in 1950, initially as the Kenya Amateur Athletics Association (KAAA).
Although it was a show mainly for veteran athletes, a few current athletes and global stars were also present at the event.
The country’s pioneer athletes led by multiple Olympic champion Kipchoge Keino, Olympic gold medallists in 4x400m relay; Hezekiah Nyamao and Charles Asati among others were honoured.
Similarly, Amos Biwott – the first Kenyan to win an Olympic gold medal was honoured as well as Wilson Kiprugut Chumo – the first Kenyan to win a medal at the Olympic Games.
Moreover, already deceased athletes; Nyantika Maiyoro, Ben Jipcho, Robert Ouko, Daniel Rudisha among others were also recognised with their kin picking their awards.
It was however a sweet reunion for the first three female athletes who represented Kenya at the 1968 Olympic Games.
The trio of Tecla Chemabwai Sang, Elizabeth Chesire and Lydia Stephens were the first Kenyan female athletes to participate at the Summer Games held in Mexico City.
As the trio came together once again for yet another time while proudly displaying their medals, they could not hide memories of their historic flight to Mexico.
“I cannot forget my trip to Mexico. That was the first time when I wore sandals never to mention the experience of travelling by air for the first time. I used to compete in school games but the opportunity to compete at the Olympics changed my life,” said Tecla Chemabwai who is currently a don at Moi University.
“I started my athletics career in Coast with the support of the late Ronald Ngala before I shifted to Nairobi. I have fond memories of our competition in Mexico and I am proud to be among the female pioneer athletes in our country,” said Lydia Stephens.
For Chesire who hails from Elgeyo Marakwet County, she has a special advice to the current generation of athletes.
“I want to challenge our athletes to avoid this animal called doping that is slowly eroding our values as a sporting nation. For us we just used to eat traditional food and train hard, and we never used any substance,” said Chesire.
Sports Cabinet Secretary, Amina Mohammed, who was also the chief guest of the event, hailed the federation for its success over the years.
“We are one of the most indomitable giants in athletics globally and while we are very proud of our athletes I also salute AK for the outstanding leadership they have shown over the years becoming one of the best federations in the world,” said Amina.
World 1,500m champion Timothy Cheruiyot who graced the event hailed the federation for organising the event.
“It is a good feeling to sit and interact with our legendary athletes. For me it is actually inspiring since I have not met some of them before,” said Cheruiyot.
His comments were echoed by world 5,000m champion Hellen Obiri who was also among the current athletes invited to the event.
“It is really motivating to interact and have a chat with some of our founding athletes who started it all,” said Obiri.
Also present at the event were Uasin Gishu County governor Jackson Mandago and his Nyeri counterpart Mutahi Kahiga who doubles as the secretary general of AK in the central region.
Kisii county senator Prof. Sam Ongeri who also served as the chairman of AK then KAAA between 1974-84 narrated how the development of Nyayo Stadium came about.