NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 6- The triumphant Kenyan team that ruled the continent finishing top of the medal standings at the African Senior Athletics Championships in Asaba, Nigeria jetted back to the country on Monday night to a heroes’ welcome at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
Speaking to Capital Sport at the Airport upon their arrival from Nigeria, Team Coach Stephen Mwaniki has admitted that the difficulties they faced before getting to Asaba were catalysts to their performance which saw them finish top of the standings.
Team Kenya was crowned best in the continent for the first time since 2010 in Nairobi after amassing 19 medals, 11 of them being gold, 6 Silver and 2 Bronze.
About 44 Team Kenya Athletes spent two days at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos after the Local organizing Committee failed to avail enough transit planes to Asaba, the competition town, close to 500km away from Lagos.
“Despite all the difficulties we underwent on our trip to Asaba, we eventually managed to emerge victorious. We were focused and ready for this championship we had to talk to the athletes and convince them that despite all the problems, it was passing wind,” Mwaniki said.
“We told them the country depends on them and everything is on their mind; if they decide to win they will win and that was it. Obiri (Hellen) gave us a really good head-start with the first gold and from there the medals were flowing,” an elated Mwaniki further explained.
His words were echoed by World, Olympic and Commonwealth Games 3,000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto who won gold in the water and barriers race in Asaba on his first attempt at the African Games.
“At first honestly, I wasn’t happy with how things had gone in Lagos but later we realized that it made us go work harder in Asaba. We really didn’t have a good welcome like we expected but I told my teammates we were not coming to have a warm welcome; let’s focus and do what brought us here,” Kipruto said.
“I was really focused Myself because I had never run at the African Championships and I wanted that gold medal,” he added.
Javelin champion Julius Yego also weighed in; “It wasn’t the best of preparations for a championship but ultimately, it motivated us to work hard and show that we are the best.”
Kenya had a slow start to the championship with the 10,000m athletes failing to clinch any medal having arrived in Asaba barely six hours to the race and hadn’t even had enough time to rest after camping at the Lagos Airport for two days.
However, after Obiri clinched the women’s 5,000m gold, the blessings fell like torrential rainfall.
Other gold medals came from Elijah Manangoi (1500m), Conseslus, Beatrice Chepkoech (3,000m S/C), Edward Zakayo (5,000m), Winny Chebet (1500m), Stacy Ndiwa 10,000m and Samuel Gathimba (20km walk).
Kenya also managed to harvest gold medals in two field events, Yego and Mathew Sawe defending their javelin and high jump titles respectively.
Kenya as well shocked sprinting nations Nigeria and South Africa to claim gold in the men’s 400m by 4 race. The women’s team also did it’s fair share of glory clinching silver while the 4 by 100m team clinched bronze.
The other athlete to win Kenya a bronze medal was Fancy Cherono in the 3,000m steeplechase, a race which the home girls swept the podium with World Under-18 and Under-20 champion Celliphine Chespol taking silver.
Timothy Cheruiyot (1500m), Alice Aprot (10,000m), Emmanuel Korir (800m) and Grace Wanjiru also won silver.
Meanwhile, coach Mwaniki says he was delighted to have led the team to the top having also been at the helm when the same happened in 2010 at the Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi.
“I am very happy that I have managed to steer Kenya on top once again. They really worked hard and we displayed some good performance in Asaba,” Mwaniki told Capital Sport.
The team landed at the JKIA shortly after 8:30pm and were received warmly.
Top ranking government officials led by Sports Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Hassan Noor Hassan and Principle Secretary Kirimi Kaberia led families and friends in braving the chilly Nairobi night weather to welcome back the athletes from the successful trip to West Africa.
“We are happy with their performance and congratulate them for a job well done. They represented Kenya and did us proud,” Kaberia said as he welcomed back the athletes home.
The athletes were later hosted for dinner by the ministry and Athletics Kenya at a Nairobi Hotel before a huge chunk of them retired to their homes to focus on the upcoming Diamond League races as well as the Intercontinental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic.