Sunday, October 3, 2010

Team Kenya strong despite absent elites


Kenya’s maiden Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada, more than five decades ago did not yield a medal.

In stark contrast, however, the expectations of its athletes at the 19th edition in Delhi from Sunday to October 14 are high.

It is the first time India is hosting the ‘Club’ Games, which go to Asia for only the second time after Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1998. More than 8,000 athletes from 54 countries will compete in 21 sports disciplines.

Initially British Empire Games, the multi-sport event has been held every four years since 1930 and involves elite athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations, whose members are mainly former British colonies.

Since 1954 Kenya has been to 13 games, only missing the 1986 Games in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It has won 162 medals – 59 gold, 47 silver and 56 bronze – mostly in track and field events but also boxing.

On the total medal count list that is topped by Australia (1,905), England (1,694) and Canada (1,316), it lies ninth.

The men’s 3,000m steeplechase event however stands out as Kenya’s most lucrative, contributing 22 medals, and no athlete from outside the country has won the gold in the water and hurdle race since 1994 in Victoria, Canada.

Massive withdrawal by athletes

The massive withdrawal by athletes from across the globe have tainted the Delhi games and Kenya has had its own fair share of the pullouts.

The most notable of its absentees in the men’s cadre is, arguably, 800m world record holder David Rudisha while Commonwealth 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei leads the female no-shows.

Also giving the event a miss are Olympic 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop, Africa 5,000m winner Edwin Soi, as well as Linet Masai, the World 10,000m champion, and former World marathon champion Luke Kibet, among others.

Athletics Kenya permitted Rudisha, 21, to skip the games after a demanding but immensely successful season in which he broke the world record twice in a week.

Despite his absence, however, the athletics team still has two Olympic champions, two world champions and several youngsters.

Coach Benjamin Ayimba-led Kenya’s rugby sevens team is in Pool C with Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia and must finish in the top two to make the Main Cup finals.

Other teams in the event are England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“We are eyeing the gold; nothing short of that. Kenya deserves a medal in rugby,” said Ayimba.

Kenya will also compete in swimming, boxing, weightlifting, wrestling, archery, shooting, badminton, lawn tennis, table tennis, squash, cycling, bowling and Paralympics.