Shezhana, Lionesses, Bayusuf eye Tokyo 2020 after Rio debuts
Save for family members and journalists, the first batch of Team Kenya from the Rio 2016 Olympics returned home bereft of fanfare with members of the group having failed in their quest to challenge for coveted medals in their disciplines.
It took the start of the track and field action on Friday for Kenya to finally appear at the medal table when Vivian Cheruiyot won women 10000m silver shortly before the team landed at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that evening at 7:40pm local time (+3GMT).
The group that returned empty-handed from the 31st edition of the Games comprised of the women’s rugby sevens team, the lone female archer Shehzahna Anwar, judoka Kiplangat Sang and swimmer Hamdan Bayusuf together with their officials.
Conspicuous in their absence were representatives from Government and their federations to welcome the returning Olympians who added the badge of honour of representing their country at the grandest sporting competition.
Shehzhana was eliminated from the round of 32 by South Korean Olympics champion, Ki Bo-Bae after finishing 62nd in the preliminary ranking stage of the women’s single archery to be paired with the record holder.
The African champion, who is still getting used to the attention she has been receiving since qualifying for Rio was enthusiastically mobbed by her cousins, nephew and niece who came to receive her as a family heroine having carried Kenya’s flag into the Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremony.
“There are no words to describe it, it’s the best feeling ever; it is a dream come true. I’ve been in Archery for 14 years and the whole journey led up to that moment. The Kenyan team also gave me the honour to carry the country’s flag at the opening ceremony and when you add it all up this has been the best first Olympics I could ever have hoped for,” the elated lady revealed.
“Now I have another four years to train even harder like the Koreans for the next games in Tokyo and I hope that making it this far is going to encourage other people to be more passionate and dedicated so that next time we can send a larger contingent of archers to the Games,” the third archer in Kenya’s history to qualify for the Olympics added.
The interview was momentarily cut short as Shezhana’s little nephew ran into the scene to hug his aunt, oblivious of what was unfolding behind him.
“Welcome back,” he softly mumbled.
“Carrying the flag was definitely the proudest moment of my life; I kept telling myself please don’t cry, please don’t cry. It was extremely amazing for me especially seeing the kids smiling as I went past the crowd with the team.
“My mom, who doubled up as my coach, did her best to take the pressure off, constantly letting me know how proud and pleased she was and that helped a lot because I was a nervous wreck,” she recalled her proudest moment when she walked to the stadium with the national symbol in a ceremony watched by billions across the world.
“From this point on, I want to get a stranglehold of life as I prepare for my next challenge. It’s been a struggle to get to the Olympics as I had to temporarily halt my job so now I need to get my footing as I figure out where I’ll get the money to compete at my next tournaments,” she underscored.
The Lionesses who have been credited with a better performance than their much-travelled World Rugby Sevens Circuit core side Shujaa were in high spirits after making their Olympics debut where they beat Colombia 22-10 in the classification games for their only victory.
Their families, relatives and friends were the noisiest of the thin welcoming party with head coach, Mike Shamiah, telling reporters the team would use lessons learned from Rio to turn around its fortunes after failing to nail a top eight place that would have guaranteed them entry to the women’s World Series.
“First Olympics for the girls and I believe it was a good outing for us. The players gave it their all and it was a wonderful experience for them. Playing against the more established teams like New Zealand, France and Spain which are core teams in the series gave us the exposure we were looking for,” he explained.
“The competition was very tough and so under those circumstances, I think they did very well. We are going to rest for a few days before we start to prepare for the Confederation of Africa Rugby cup and see how to progress from there,” he asserted.
Janet Okelo, who touched down thrice at the Games, to emerged the country’s top scorer with 17 points was the toast of the lot as she paused to take photos with her adoring fans as she reveled in the moment.
“It felt great scoring the first Kenyan try at the Olympics because it is the biggest stage you can get. It took a while to sink in but after that, I just got my mind in the game. We were really nervous playing the first game but after a pep talk with the coaches, we approached the rest differently,” she added.
With Kenya having been thrown a qualification lifeline to Rio after South Africa’s Olympics body withdrew their team that had beaten them at the qualifiers, Okello stressed they were determined to make it to Tokyo 2020 outright.
“We didn’t qualify for the series at Rio and that will be our main focus when we head to the qualifiers next season. We were used to playing local teams like Uganda but now that we have the exposure against the top teams in the world we know where we need to start our recovery,” Okelo who touched first down against Spain in their 10-19 defeat in their final Pool B clash added in echoing her coach’s sentiments.
She then crossed the whitewash twice in their 11-12 place play-off against Colombia having notched two points in converting Kenya’s only try in their 40-7 loss to France in their second Pool B encounter as the Lionesses recorded their first score at the Olympics.
Conscious of the damaging selection scandal that blighted his first Olympics, swimmer Bayusuf attempted to evade the waiting hacks as he quickly shot through the terminal’s exit.
The mixed relay national record holder almost got away with passing incognito it save for the official Team Kenya regalia that sold him short.
Speaking to Citizen Digital, the swimmer underscored his intentions to make it to the next edition of the Games by making the A-Standard to avoid the drama of outside selection after Kenya Swimming Federation was accused of overlooking a faster swimmer, Issa Mohammed in his favour.
“It was a great experience, I did the best I could do and now what’s left is to go back home and train harder for what’s going to come. These Olympics were my stepping stone and I just have to improve from there,” he explained.
Bayusuf was however; coy on whether the storm surrounding his participation affected his performance after coming unstuck in the preliminaries of the men 100 backstroke event he had been entered.
“There was a lot of pressure and I won’t say it affected me because I added 0.21 seconds on my best time which in competitions is a positive.
“I’ll now shift my focus to the FINA World Championships in Canada later this year and maybe in the next Olympic Games in Tokyo I will make it to the final,” the swimmer emphasised hoping to draw the final line under the affair.