NAIROBI, Kenya, January 22- You can always trust Ezekiel Kemboi to steal the show, even at a state function.
On Tuesday, the two-time Olympics steeplechase gold medallist was at it again, rising to adorn the Head of State, President Mwai Kibaki, with his gold medal from the London Olympics.
It was a gesture that best exemplified the rich legacy the leader who is due to retire in March has left among the nation’s sports persons who regard him highly for among others, establishing a scheme that sees them rewarded for excellence.
As far as they are concerned, Kibaki put together a gold winning performance during his tenure that ends after the March 4 elections.
Of course, the International Olympics Committee rules do not allow the transfer of Olympics medals but Kemboi’s latest antic left the President, who admired the medal for the few minutes it formed part of his attire so touched.
“Can the generous man who gave me this beautiful medal please comes forward. Have it back, you deserve it, thank you very much,” Kibaki said as he rose to address those gathered in the flag-returning ceremony by Olympics, Paralympics and Deaflympics teams among others.
“He can have that; I still have the one from Athens and many other medals. I decided to give him the medal and dedicate it to him as the Head of State. Others dedicate them to their mothers, fathers and family.
“I chose to dedicate mine to him and the country since he has done a lot for sports since he took power,” the two-time World Champion explained his headline-grabbing gesture.
Although Kibaki will not retire with the cherished medal, the Athens and London champion presented him with an autographed portrait of himself performing his famed ‘Emily Chepchumba’ dance upon victory in London.
It is a photo that will no doubt occupy a proud place in the leader’s mantelpiece in his palatial retirement home in Mweiga, Central Kenya.
“I encourage you to keep up with the good work and seek to achieve even greater success in your respective disciplines. I also call upon you to inspire and set a good example to the children and young people who look upon you as role models,” the President imparted on the gathering that also included teams from Motor Cross and Rugby Sevens in what is the last function he will preside with sports persons at the lush lawns of Nairobi’s State House.
During the fete, Kibaki handed out cheques worth Sh15.4m to medallists at London Olympics and Paralympics Games where medallist received Sh750, 000 for gold, Sh500, 000 for silver and Sh300,000 for bronze each.
“I therefore, call upon the various sports federations to set up youth academies that will identify, develop, promote and manage our young sporting people with sporting ability.
“Sports have the potential to be a major employer in our country and to contribute to the growth of our economy,” the Head of State added.
“For the two terms he has been heading this country, he has done a lot in sports and we are happy under his leadership and wish him well. The new Sports Bill that came under him could favour us and we wish him good retirement.
“There is nothing else we can say but to thank him because he is a sportsman,” world record holder and Olympics champion, David Rudisha, said of the leader who has taken personal liking for him.
During the ceremony, Rudisha and Kemboi, the two gold winners at London 2012 Olympics were the only competitors who had the privilege of posing for personal photos with the President.
Kibaki also paid homage to the rugby sevens team that he presented with the national flag ahead of this year’s Sevens World Cup.
“I wish you the best and look forward to seeing you finish in the best position ever. You are a very talented lot and I have confidence that you will succeed in the World Series and World Cup,” he told the squad that presented him with a large jersey.
Retired two-time Olympics champion and chairman of the National Olympics Committee of Kenya (Noc-k), Dr. Kipchoge Keino, urged the Head of State to cement his legacy by having a stadium in his home region erected and named after him.
“I trained at the Ruringu Stadium in Nyeri and broke two world records. This shows the potential the high altitude area at the foot of Mount Kenya has and make sure before you go, a stadium in your honour is built to help the youth from this region,” the Mexico 68 and Munich 72 Olympics winner stated.
Assistant Sports Minister, Kabando wa Kabando who held brief for his boss Ababu Namwamba called on an Executive Order to be made to repossess the Ruringu Stadium Grounds in Nyeri from the Agricultural Society of Kenya (ASK) for the project.
“It is unfair for ASK to own two parcels of land having been given the Kabiruini Grounds in Mweiga to move their show,” Kabando added.
However, on the day Kibaki bade his farewell to sports persons who have grown to be his supporters during his presidency, Kemboi, more than most, ensured that he will have an lasting memory of the people he labelled “great ambassadors”.