NAIROBI, August 29 – Mombasa laid out a red carpet welcome for the national Olympics team who were feted by the President Mwai Kibaki on Friday.
The entire city came to a stand still as medallists were garlanded by President Kibaki who handed out cash rewards to the team at Treasury Square with each gold medallist receiving Sh2.3 million while silver medallists took home Sh1.125 million.
Bronze medallists left Sh780,000 richer as the corporate world and government joined hands to show appreciation of the team’s sterling achievements in China where it recorded its best ever medal haul of five gold, five silvers and four bronze. Each finalist got Sh20, 000.
Wilfred Bungei, Samuel Wanjiru and Brimin Kipruto proudly displayed their gold medals while Eliud Kipchoge, Catherine Ndereba and Eunice Jepkorir donned their silver gongs in front of an excited crowd.
Earlier, the airport was a beehive of activity as an elaborate welcome party led by Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, as well as a number of ministers including Najib Balala, James Orengo and William Ruto.
The athletes arrived in style flown in by two Kenya Air force planes. Upon landing, they were bequeathed with flowers, a traditional kanga and a sip of the nazi and mursik as dancers and entertainers strutted their stuff.
From the airport, the athletes were ferried to the venue of the ceremony aboard an open bus and hundreds of people then lined up the streets as a convoy of up to 60 vehicles snaked its way into the city.
Speaking after handing out cash awards, President Kibaki congratulated the athletes for their performances in Beijing singling out Pamela Jelimo’s landmark gold medal in the women’s 800 metres.
Kibaki said the country should congratulate itself for a job well done: “I don’t know whether everyone comprehends the fact that we were the top African nation in Beijing,”
“We should be happy that we have achieved so much.”
The President urged Kenyan sports officials to emulate the success of China who emerged top at the games. “Let’s learn from the success of China who put up an elaborate plan and won many medals so let us start planning for the next Olympics in earnest.”
He also had a word for the athletes who failed to win medals: “I urge you not to be discouraged but to sharpen your skills through rigorous training and you will be successful next time.”
The Prime Minister said sports can be used to promote national unity: “Sports can unify people and we were all united as our athletes did us proud in Beijing,” he said paying special tribute to Wanjiru, “he ran very well shaking off the Ethiopian and the Moroccan and finally won us that gold medal that we had never won before.”
Team captain Wilfred Bungei said the team had fulfilled the promise it had made before leaving for the Far East.
“We made a promise that we would do better than we had in Athens in 2004 and we have done so. Before people used to talk about Seoul Olympics where we won nine medals but from now people will be speaking of Beijing where we won 14,” said Bungei.
“These performances were a result of hard work and determination and I would like to thank Kenyans for their prayers and support,” he added.
Pamela Jelimo, Nancy Jebet Lagat, Wilfred Bungei, Brimin Kipruto and Samuel Wanjiru won gold while Eunice Jepkorir, Catherine Ndereba, Janeth Jepkosgei, Asbel Kiprop and Eliud Kipchoge clinched silver. Alfred Kirwa Yego, Richard Mateelong, Edwin Soi and Micah Kogo won bronze.