NAIROBI, Kenya- Team Kenya for Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games is scheduled to return home on Tuesday after being knocked off their perch as the best nation in athletics and once again trailing South Africa and Nigeria in Africa.
Ahead of departure for Australia where the 21st edition of the Club Games concluded on Sunday, it was reported the squad was ready to better their best ever performance at the quadrennial event achieved at Delhi 2010.
On that occasion, the national anthem rang out 12 times to celebrate gold medallists with 11 silver and 10 bronze winners bringing the tally to a Kenyan record of 33 medals. Kenya topped the African charts and tied with South Africa in fifth overall.
The country topped the track and field charts for the second successive edition at Glasgow 2014 but dropped to third in Africa behind South Africa and Nigeria with 10 gold, 10 silver and five bronze.
That showing now ranks as the country’s second best overall performance in the 16 editions Kenya has taken part at the Olympic-format, multi sporting competition.
The 137-strong competing Team Kenya contingent from Gold Coast, it was 138 until reports surfaced on Monday morning that teenage boxer Brian Agina had vanished Down Under, will return home with four gold, seven silver and six bronze having bagged 17 medals.
It was Kenya’s worst performance at the Club Games since Manchester 2002 where the country won four gold, eight silver and four bronze.
It is also the fourth time in her Commonwealth Games history that Kenya has returned home with four gold medals at the event following the Kingston 1966, Brisbane 1982, Manchester 2002 and now Gold Coast 2018.
Kenya placed 14th overall and once again trailed South Africa (sixth) and Nigeria (ninth) in the African rankings and another stern inquest on the performance will be demanded when the squad and officials and competitors touch down in Nairobi.
After all, much was expected from the team- especially in track and field- with a new regime in place at the National Olympics Committee-Kenya that is now under the stewardship of retired distance running legend, Paul Tergat.
Flamboyant Athletics Kenya Nairobi Branch chairman, Barnaba Korir, who has been at the forefront of agitating for athletes to be treated with respect and honour was designated the Chef-de-Mission for Gold Coast 2018 in ushering the new era of management following the repugnant Rio 2016 Olympics scandal.
Watching from home, the tainted NOCK officials who were hounded out of office following the Brazil Games fiasco are perhaps, the only people in the land cheering the lacklustre performance.
As a nation waits for the large contingent of competitors to explain the dispiriting showing that left egg on the faces of a proud sporting nation, SportPesa News rounds up the highs and lows of Team Kenya charge at Gold Coast 2018.
With all due respect to world champions; team captain Elijah Manangoi (men 1500m), Conseslus Kipruto (men 3000m steeplechase) and Hellen Obiri (women 5000m), unheralded first timer Kimunyal chose the perfect time to endear himself to his country.
The 21 year-old athlete born a ‘spear throw away’ from men 800m world record holder, David Lekuta Rudisha ended four days of national heartbreak when he won the men two-lap title for Kenya’s first gold at Gold Coast.
To say the entire country heaved a sigh of collective relief would be an understatement. Within minutes, Kimunyal’s name spread on social media like uncontrolled bushfire, with celebrity and ordinary Kenyans making a chaotic queue to congratulate him for the glory that spared an exposed nation its blushes.
The great Rudisha himself failed to keep the men 800m title in Kenya’s custody at Glasgow 2014, famously losing to Nigel Amos but on that day, Kimunyal left the Botswana superstar and second fastest man of all time at the distance choking on his fumes as the titleholder finished last.
When the Team Kenya narrative on Gold Coast 2018 is written, Kimunyal will take his pride of place as the brightest spark in an otherwise wretched performance.
National women’s sevens team, Lionesses are among the few competitors who will hail Gold Coast 2018 as a landmark as they continue their imperious rise in the game after finishing above their decorated male counterparts, Shujaa on their debut.
It all started on Saturday when they beat continental champions, South Africa for the second in a week in what was essentially a dead Group A rubber having ended their medal interest by losing to Canada and New Zealand.
Lionesses beat Wales 14-12 in their 5th to 8th place play-off before falling 5-40 to Fiji for a sixth finish as head coach Kevin Wambua and his charges made a memorable impression at their first ever Club Games outing.
Another debutant at the Club Games, ‘Mamushka’ Ongare stole the show in Gold Coast when she won bronze in the women Flyweight (51kg), having travelled to Australia among the least talked-about in a squad of 11 ‘Hit Squad’ boxers.
She was the only competitor outside athletics to medal in Australia and she managed to eclipse her more illustrious teammates such as previous Commonwealth Games medallists, Benson Gicharu and Nick Okoth as well as pioneering female Olympian, Elizabeth Ongoro.
Ongare won her medal in style, knocking out Sri Lankan pugilist, Jayasinghe Dulani in the quarters in the second round after realising she was trailing after the first.
They are the Kenyan athletes who had the ‘honour’ of escorting South African Caster Semenya as she collected the women 1500m and 800m middle distance double at Gold Coast.
There is no shame losing to a competitor who has stoked controversy for a decade owing to her hyperandrogenism condition that occurs when the female body has high levels of male sex hormones such as testosterone.
Semenya has become the poster girl of the condition following her phenomenal success in athletics and every time she wins; furious debate over whether it is fair for her to compete against fellow women usually ignites.
Gold Coast 2018 was no different and as the South African superstar basks in the afterglow of her first middle distance double in her career, many in the sport are banking on the new proposed world body IAAF guidelines to hyperandrogenism to end a controversy.
Should the new IAAF policy be adopted by November, Semenya and other athletes suffering from her condition will be forced to take medication to lower their male hormone levels or quit the sport altogether.
Chepkoech and Nyairera therefore, deserve acclaim for taking the alternative biggest prize on offer since when fit, Semenya is virtually unstoppable.
Samuel Ireri Gathimba
Forget his ‘English’ interview that has gone viral on social media. Gathimba won Kenya her first Gold Coast 2018 medal from the most unlikeliest of sources- men 20km Race walking- when he took bronze.
He was the first Kenyan in history to stride to the podium at an international event and despite becoming an Internet sensation following his hilarious post race interview, the man from Embu will always cherish Australia.
With the 2019 World Championships and Tokyo 2020 Olympics around the corner, his country can dream of walking with him to break more frontiers.
The ‘You Tube Man’ captured the hearts and imagination of the world when he became the first Kenyan field athlete to win Commonwealth gold when he delivered glory at Glasgow 2014.
That was followed up by an epic world title at Beijing 2015 and despite being injured after two rounds in the final, Yego clinched Olympics silver at Rio 2016.
A barren 2017 followed where he finished down the order in the defence of his world title in London last summer but ahead of Gold Coast, Yego who had Alex Kiprotich as the other Kenyan male Javelin thrower in the squad was expected to deliver a statement of intent.
Instead, his bid for a second successive Commonwealth crown ended during the qualifiers last Friday, penalised for stepping out of the line and after he launched what was a half hearted appeal, the decision to disqualify him was upheld.
His absence created space for another rivetting story to be written at the sector when the son of a farmer, Neeraj Chopra, became the first Indian to win Commonwealth Javelin gold, with Yego a footnote in his meteoric rise to the top.
After losing to Fiji at the Main Cup finals of the sixth and seventh rounds of the HSBC World Sevens Series in Canada and Hong Kong, Kenyans were hoping their respected men team Shujaa would end their Commonwealth medal drought.
Having seen their charge ended at the quarterfinals of the Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014 by South Africa and New Zealand, Shujaa were keen on sealing a spot in the last four of the re-jigged format of competitions were only group winners advanced to the semis.
Kenya were paired with New Zealand, Canada and Zambia and a crushing defeat 7-40 to the All Blacks 7s in their Pool B opener eventually cost them a run for the podium despite beating the other opponents.
They did not fare better in the classification matches, finishing seventh after losing 24-28 to Wales and for the first time, were outshone by the Lionesses.
Celliphine Chespol/Purity Cherotich
Contrary to popular belief, Kenyan distance runners being upstaged by Ugandans at the Commonwealth Games is nothing new.
Even at their most successful outing at Delhi 2010, one Moses Kipsiro denied Kenya gold in the men 5000m and 10000m, beating world famous athletes such as Eliud Kipchoge in the process.
Therefore, losing the same titles to breakout star, Joshua Cheptengei and the women 10000m gold to Stella Chesang to ‘the noisy neighbours’ Uganda hurt but it ranks nowhere to the sight Kenyans were treated to on August 12 in the final of the women 3000m steeplechase.
With the 1-2 in sight as pre-event favourite, Chespol and Glasgow 2014 champion, Cherotich surged to the lead, Jamaican Aisha Prought who stayed tucked behind the leaders all through pounced to win the title and create history for her nation.
Needless to say, even though some might argue the women 3000m steeplechase is not a preserve of the country that has totally dominated the corresponding male event, Prought stunning victory summarised everything that could go and went wrong for Team Kenya.
So-called ‘fringe’ sports
When Tergat took over the reigns of NOCK, one of his key promises was to ensure a bigger spread of medals outside the rank big three, athletics, boxing and rugby at international multi discipline competitions.
With just over two years before the world converges for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, Tergat and his administration have work to do to enlarge the country’s medal catchment portfolio.
The revered runner had a front row seat to the incursions other countries made on ‘Kenya’s territory’ at Gold Coast and with the country’s position as the most dominant force in distance races in tatters.
Badminton, Swimming, Cycling, Lawn bowls, Powerlifting, Shooting, Squash, Swimming, Table tennis, Triathlon and Weightlifting were other sports Kenyans took part in without sniffing a medal.
It speaks volumes that the battery of top local journalists at Gold Coast reserved few column inches or seconds of airtime to the exploits of the competitors in these disciplines.
With most of their selection criteria shrouded in mystery or controversy, the Tergat administration has its work cut out to streamline the management of the so called ‘fringe’ sports.
If Tergat needs a reminder on how crucial these disciplines are, he should take a look at how they contributed to Australia topping the charts with 80 gold medals.
Men and women marathon teams
The least said about this the better. A Kenyan was missing on the podium of the ultimate distance race for the first time since the 1986 edition in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The first male crossed the line in ninth and the first female just outside the medals in fourth.
For a country that has established a fearsome reputation at the event, Gold Coast 2018 will go down as a disaster.
Avoiding listing down members of the Team Kenya marathon runners for Gold Coast in this article was deliberate. They have cherished family and friends and the debacle in Australia was not their fault.
Blame squarely lies with the selection panel at Athletics Kenya and ‘elite marathoners’ who snubbed the Club Games in pursuit of the dollars offered at international circuit races.
Always keen to make light of a grave situation, Kenyans relished poking fun at African rivals Uganda, Ghana, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Cameroon when reports from Gold Coast said their athletes had disappeared.
This prompted Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to warn that athletes who breached their visa conditions they’d be tracked down, locked up and deported.
This did not deter teenage boxer, Brian Agina, from vanishing from the Athletes’ Village on the eve of their departure for Kenya on Sunday night spreading panic among Team Kenya and Government officials led by Principal Secretary in charge of Sports, Peter Kaberia.
Already reeling from a criticised performance, that was the last thing the Team Kenya rank and file needed before returning home to face a stern inquest.