NAIROBI, Kenya- Wycliffe Kinyamal, an athlete many Kenyans have never heard off, shot to the top of the social media trending charts and almost broke the Internet on Thursday in the aftermath of his golden performance at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.
Before Kinyamal, who was making his senior Team Kenya debut at the 21st Club Games found the magic to clinch the men 800m title, his compatriot had looked on in despair as their celebrated runners and other exponents collapsed to the opposition like dominoes at Gold Coast.
Moments after running 1:45.11 to clinch the top medal in the two-lap race, Kenyans heaved a collective sigh of relief as the 21 year-old was turned into an instant celebrity, with a deluge of congratulatory messages on social media.
By Thursday evening, Kinyamal was the top trending topic on micro-blogging site Twitter with over 1300 mentions in an hour as other social media users on Facebook and Instagram posted their tributes to the country’s latest global distance running superstar.
“Well done Wycliffe Kinyamal for winning the first Gold for Team Kenya in the Commonwealth Games men’s 800 meters. Wishing the entire team all the best,” President Uhuru Kenyatta wrote on Twitter in what is becoming his custom whenever the country revels in sporting glory.
“Congratulations to Wycliffe Kinyamal for winning the men’s 800 metres gold and the first for Team Kenya at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. A brilliant, dogged performance,” his Deputy, William Ruto added.
From his vantage position in Gold Coast, Cabinet Secretary for Sports and Heritage, Rashid Echesa, who is on his first tour of duty since his appointment tweeted; “Congratulations to Kenya’s Wycliffe Kinyamal for Winning Gold in the men’s 800m gold medal in 1:45.11. Compatriot Jonathan Kitilit was 6th in 1:46.12 in the men 800m.”
A sense of palpable relief was the theme as Kenyans heaved a collective sigh of relief after four days watching athletes from ‘noisy neighbours’ as respected Daily Nation editor, Elias Makori, who is in Gold Coast described Uganda, South Africa and even Jamaica stole the thunder.
However, most had not seen a foretelling post on Facebook by Justin Lagat, a writer at RunBlogRun who posted the spot on prediction before Kinyamal took to the Carrara Stadium track.
“I do believe that the little known Wycliffe Kinyamal will deliver the first gold medal for Kenya today in the men’s 800m final at 3:13pm (Kenyan time),” the athletics blogger wrote and true to his world, the unheralded athlete shot to instant fame when he led fast-finishing Englishman Kyle Langford (1:45.16) and Australian Luke Mathews (1:45.60) to the medals.
“Finally gold for Team Kenya! Congrats Wycliffe Kinyamal for winning Men’s 800m final. Well done!” eminent Kenyan female radio sports personality, Carol Radull wrote on her official Twitter handle.
Her sentiments were echoed by BBC Africa’s Michelle Katami who gushed; “Finally! And Kenya has he first gold medal Gold Coast 2018. Wycliffe Kinyamal wins the 800m in 1:45.11. Brave run from Kinyamal, he went all out (with) 250m to go. Pongezi (congratulations).”
She also hailed the performance of Langford who charged from the back of the field to take the second medal with defending champion, Botswana ace Nijel Amos, the second fastest man at the distance, never a factor as he ran to the wooden spoon.
“Congratulations! Wycliffe Kinyamal for winning men’s 800m race and grabbing Kenya’s first Gold medal in the Commonwealth Games 2018. We are Proud of you!” Kenyan ambassador to Austria added.
“Wycliffe Kinyamal wins the men’s 800 metres gold and the first for Team Kenya at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. A brilliant, superb performance,” Peter Cheruiyot wrote on Facebook.
Mainstream media online platforms jumped into the celebratory mood sparked by the freshly-minted Commonwealth champion, with Daily Nation screaming ‘Gold at Last! Kinyamal ends Kenya’s duck in Gold Coast’, The Standard chorused ‘Kinyamal shines as Kenya closes on Uganda on medals table’ while The Star went to town with ‘Kenya bags first gold with Wycliffe Kinyamal’s super finish in 800m race’.
Internationally, not all were pumping their fists in the air, with BBC Sport tweeting; “Wycliffe Kinyamal of Kenya takes the gold in the men’s 800m final. He was pushed all the way by England’s Kyle Langford who takes the silver.”
While every Kenyan has good reason to celebrate the achievement of Kinyamal, the reality is Gold Coast 2018 is shaping up to be the worst Commonwealth Games outing for the country in recent memory.
Kenya topped the track and field charts at the Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014 editions, with the athletes bringing home 11 gold medals at each of the previous two running of the event.
The National Olympics Committee-Kenya (NOCK) under the stewardship of retired distance running legend, Paul Tergat, faces a stern inquest into the inglorious performance in his first international meet since he took over.
Kinyamal brought Kenya’s tally to seven medals, with female boxer Christine ‘Mamushka’ Ongare assured of an eighth by the close of Day 9 of the quadrennial event.