Year in Review: Kenya’s podium sweep in 3,000m steeplechase highlights C’W
Published on: December 31, 2018 05:00 (EAT)
Philip Muchiri After a horrendous outing at the Rio Olympics Games in 2016, Kenya went to the Commonwealth Games in 2018 not only bullish of a heroic show but also aiming to save face after a litany of administrative goofs painted a negative image in Brazil. Rightly so, at the 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games held in Gold Coast City, Queensland, Australia, between April 4-15, Kenya endeavoured to put her best foot forward, with some 136 sportsmen; 76 men and 60 women competing in 14 different disciplines – athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, lawn bowls, power lifting, rugby sevens, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling – as Kenya bade to improve on her medal tally, having bagged 25 medals; 10 of them gold, five silver and an equal number of bronze at the Glasgow Games in 2014. With 66 athletes, athletics produced the largest number of Kenya’s sports men in Gold Coast; 38 of them men and 28 women. Elijah Manangoi, the 1,500m track and field star got the honour of carrying Kenya’s flag at the opening ceremony but when action begun, it was on a sluggish note as boxer Nicholas Okoth lost to Michael Alexander of Trinidad and Tobago in the Men’s 60kg. This defeat though did not dampen the mood in Team Kenya’s camp as Eunice Mbugua won her first game 21-15 in lawn bawls women singles. Despite losing her second game 21-7 to Norfolk Island’s Carmen Anderson, Mbugua would go on to win one more game before Kenya’s hopes of making a first-ever appearance in the Commonwealth Games lawn bowls quarterfinals went up in smoke after she lost her final group game at the Broad Beach Bowls Club going down 19-18 to Cook Islands’ Nooroa Mataio. The 31-year-old was Kenya’s only medal prospect in the event after the other Kenyan Cephas Kimwaki Kimani, competing in the men singles had a difficult time in the group stages. “I had hopes of making the quarter finals but I panicked when Mataio, my last opponent started removing my balls by force that is when I started playing the way I had not planned; it made me change my tactic by trying to put my balls in a strategic position,” a gutted Mbugua told Citizen Digital after her final game. With a medal prospect in lawn bowls dashed, the focus shifted to the 10 Kenyan boxers, but after five days of intense action in the ring, it’s the 24-year-old Mombasa based boxer Shaffi Hassan who made the cut to the quarter finals but lost on points to Juma Miiro of Uganda, dashing Kenya’s hopes of securing at least a bronze at the Games in the 46-49kg. Kenya’s boxing head coach Patrick Maina blamed the defeat on officiating. Poor performance was also witnessed in the other events such as badminton, cycling, power-lifting, shooting, squash, swimming, table tennis, triathlon, weightlifting and wrestling, forcing the Minister for Sports Rashid Achesa, to call for a crisis meeting at the southern eastern city of Australia. Kenya’s medal hunt in athletics, where they have primary dominated, also begun on the wrong footing on Day One of athletics as Uganda’s Joshua Kiprui Cheptegei won his country its first gold medal in the in 5,000m as Kenya’s World Junior 5,000m silver medalist Edward Zakayo took home bronze. Race walker Samuel Gathimba also settled for bronze. On Day Two, Kenya’s hopes for her first gold were dashed by Uganda again as Stella Chesang’ reigned supreme in the 10,000m, relegating home girl Stacy Ndiwa to silver. World women’s 3,000m steeplechase record holder Beatrice Chepkoech also bagged Kenya silver. The wait for the elusive gold ended on the fifth day of athletics action when 20-year-old Wycliffe Kinyamal won the 800m final, after Aisha Praught of Jamaica had denied Kenya in the women’s 3000m steeplechase final, relegating Celliphine Chespol to silver. However, Kenya’s moment in the sun came in the men’s 3,000m steeplechase where World and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto led a Kenyan clean sweep before a 1, 2 finish in the women’s 5,000m final led by Hellen Obiri and Elijah Manangoi in the 1,500m men’s final. Be as it may, Kenya failed to bag a medal in the rugby sevens – both men and women. The women team, Lionesses, was in fact handed baptism by fire losing 45-0 in their opening match to eventual winners New Zealand. The Kenyan girls went on to lose to Canada 24-12, before winning their last group game 19-10 to South Africa. Shujaa, on the other hand, also had nothing to smile about despite winning their first match 26-10 against Canada before losing their second match 40-7 to eventual winners New Zealand. In their final group match, Kenya humiliated Zambia 47-0, also losing their final 5-8 placing match 33-5 to Australia. With the flip-flopping performances in the disciplines, Kenya finished 14th with a total of 17 medals; four gold, seven silver and six bronze, emerging the third best team in Africa after South Africa and Nigeria. Quite an adventure Covering the quadrennial event was an experience to many a Kenyan journalist in the sixth city of Australia as yours truly had to make friends with strangers, and fast for that matter! Being a tourist town, the residents have a way of making a foreigner feel at home and it’s not only strange but also funny seeing people walk around smiling all the time, and at everyone! And as if to give the smile a bonus, they’ll wish each other a good day too, perhaps as a bonus. I also learnt that it’s illegal to use a wooden chopping board in Australia. An encounter with a senior chef at a hotel in the Athletes Village, Darmian Gow Smith, taught me that the use of the famous Nyama Choma board is banned in Aussie, as when hot food is placed on the board it extracts and food particles are locked in when it condenses. On using the board again, your new meal is likely to get contaminated by the left over from the previous food. Some science there! All said and done, covering the Game was quite an experience.