NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 17 -If there was one great thing about the 2017 IAAF World U18 Championships then it was the mammoth 60,000 fans who thronged the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani as Kenya delighted the world athletics governing body with the historic turnout at the event.
Decked out in their nation’s colours, the Kenyan fans came filling through the gates of the Kasarani Stadium each day beaming wide smiles, extending the arms to welcome the athletics world.
What made it unforgettable, however, was their support anytime Kenyan athletes took to the track, or indeed field. Whether it was a high jumper clearing a bar in warmup, a thrower unleashing a personal best in qualifying or a middle distance athlete storming to victory, they roared their support all week, creating an incredible setting for live sport.
“50,300 spectators in the evening session. 37,600 in the morning session. The largest ever crowd at a World U18 Championships. Thank you Kenya!” IAAF wrote on their official Facebook account.
Amazing scenes from a stunning closing ceremony
— IAAF (@iaaforg) July 16, 2017
“It is very electric. I have never seen such a crowd in an IAAF U18 or U20 Championships. This is huge! Kenya is a powerhouse in athletics and this has been shown here,” IAAF commentator John Anderson said.
The breath-taking scenes reminded Kenyans of the 1998 World Cup Qualifier when the national football team Harambee Stars held giants Nigeria to a 1-1 draw on June 7, 1997, the last time the Kasarani Stadium was capacity full.
— IAAF (@iaaforg) July 15, 2017
It was made possible after President Uhuru Kenyatta announced free entrance to the event.
“The stadium is absolutely rocking now, terrific stuff,” IAAF commentator Tony Husband said when commentating the Boys 1500m final where George Meitamei Manangoi stormed to victory to hand host nation Kenya first gold.
The global competition cooled down the political temperatures in the country with all Kenyans uniting to rally behind Team Kenya, who collected a total of 15 medals, 4 gold, 7 silver and 4 bronze.
Capital Sport caught up with some of the fans who turned up with their family.
“I’ve never seen such a crowd in my life, I’ve been in many stadia but this is historic. I feel like a Kenyan, it’s so patriotic and I really look forward for a big afternoon,” a fan who came with his wife and two-year-old son said.
His wife Gladys Midecha said, “I am very happy that Kenyans have come out in large numbers to support our very own children, this is the next generation that will take after the likes of David Rudisha so it’s good we give them all the support we can because this is the last IAAF World U18 Championships. It’s Euphoric!”
“It’s hectic but so far so good, it’s an awesome experience being my first time bringing the family to the stadium so they are going to have a good time, we are looking forward for the vibe inside,” another fan who came with his two twin sons stated.
“I came to the Stadium to watch it live and be part of history. I have come with my small son so that we can be part of team Kenya,” a mother who came with her one year old baby said.
“It feels great Kenya hosting a world and big international competition like this. I feel great when I see Kenyans coming together.”
“I am disappointed because of the security checks at the gate, they have created unnecessary chaos…anyway it’s a good feeling to come here and motivate our fellow Kenyans who are participating in this event,” Joe Oketh who came with his girlfriend opined.
“The crowd is massive and it shows how much we love athletics. We have always performed well so I expect the same in the track events,” he added.
The 60,000 people who turned up on Sunday afternoon may have had a ringing in their ears for several hours afterwards, thanks mainly to the exploits of Kenya’s Jackline Wambui, who powered away to win the Girls’ 800m and lead a 1-2 with teammate Lydia Jeruto Lagat in a World Lead time of 2:01.46.
With Manangoi giving Kenya first medal on Day 3, there was much to cheer about for the home crowd, with Caren Chebet leading compatriot Mercy Chepkirui to a 1-2 sweep in the 2000m Steeplechase Girls before Leonard Kipkemoi Bett bagged Kenya’s fourth and last gold medal in the corresponding 2000m Steeplechase Boys.
Kenya started Day 1 on a silver lining when Emmaculate Chepkirui finished second behind Ethiopian Abersh Minsewo who snatched gold in the 3000m Girls.
Kenya also picked surprise medals in the 10,000m Walk Race thanks to Dominic Ndigiti’s bronze, 400m Girls silver courtesy of Mary Moraa and Moitalel Mpoke Naadokila’s 400m Hurdles Boys silver.
The host nation failed to win gold in 3000m Boys that saw Edward Zakayo collect silver while Stanley Waithaka took bronze.
Once again the elusive Girls 1500m gold slipped out of Kenyan hands after Edina Jebitok settled for bronze as Ethiopia took a 1-2 sweep on the penultimate day to continue their dominance.
Kenya finished fourth overall in the medal standings, a drop in performance from 2015 when it came second with 5 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze.
2017 saw South Africa top the table with 5 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze followed by China who had 5 gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze while Cuba finished third with 5 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze.
Kenya’s perennial rivals Ethiopia came fifth with 4 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze.
-Security-Kenya also proved wrong Britain, USA, New Zealand, Australia and Canada who pulled out of the event citing security concerns.
Security was given maximum priority with National Police Service and National Youth Service deploying their officers before and during the five-day day global showpiece.
Entertainment was at full blast in the village, just outside the main stadium where renowned artists like Nameless, Wahu and comedians like Paul Wa Kimani Ogutu of Churchil Show was wowing the crowd.