|1. David Rudisha||1. Boniface Mucheru Tumuti||1. Margaret Wambui|
|2. Conseslus Kipruto||2. Julius Yego|
|3. Eliud Kipchoge||3. Paul Tanui|
|4. Faith Kipyegon||4. Helen Obiri|
|5. Vivian Cheruiyot||5. Vivian Cheruiyot|
|6. Jemima Sumgong||6. Hyvin Jepkemoi|
Total: 13 medals
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s iconic city – but not the capital, as often mistaken – has provided a colourful, spectacular and intoxicating atmosphere that has completely captivated the world. Brazil put aside all their socio-political difficulties, and united to give the world one of the best Summer Olympic Games ever.
Kenya has enjoyed relatively good success at the games, with several highs and lows. Here, we take a look at the top five things that stood out, and five things that we wish we could forget.
1: Rudisha Delivers
As far as expectations go, none had more weight coming into the Olympics like David Rudisha. It was almost a question of whether or not he would break his world record, not whether or not he’d actually win the race. As much as he had serious competition in the shape of Alfred Kipketer, the only man to beat him recently over the distance, Rudisha’s place in history as a double Olympic gold medallist for Kenya was never really under threat.
Kipketer pushed him hard for almost 600m, but Rudisha kept his usual grace and composure to kick off his huge pace when it really mattered, winning strongly in 1:42.16. While he did not break his world record, Rudisha delivered when it mattered, and established himself as possibly the greatest 800m runner of all time. Rudisha currently holds the top three, six of the top ten and ten of the top twenty fastest times over 800m. Incredible!
2: Olympic Gold Medal Firsts
Kenya’s other Olympic gold medalists were Eliud Kipchoge (marathon men), Jemima Sumgong (marathon women), Vivian Cheruiyot (5,000m), Conseslus Kipruto (3,000m steeplechase) and Faith Kipyegon (1,500m women).
Eliud Kipchoge, for me, is Kenya’s greatest unsung hero. Not many people know that this is a man who first won an Olympic medal for Kenya when he won Bronze at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, where he lost to Morocco’s Hicham el Guerrouj and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, two athletes who were, without question, some of the greatest middle distance athletes in history. This was in the 5,000m. Four years later, at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Kipchoge won silver, again in 5,000m, losing to Kenenisa Bekele, who broke the Olympic record at that race. It has taken him another eight years to win an Olympic gold after he switched events to the marathon, winning it in 2:08:44. The ceremonial medal presentation and anthem played during the closing ceremony was a fitting tribute to one of Kenya’s greatest ever athletic exports.
Another long term success at the games is the irrepressible Vivian Cheruiyot, whose unyielding spirit finally won her the Olympic gold medal she has worked so hard for. She came into these games with significant expectation on her shoulders as well, having won silver and bronze in the 5,000m and 10,000m respectively in London 2012. This time, she went up a class higher in both events, winning gold and silver in 5,000m and 10,000m respectively. In her 10,000m race, Cheruiyot did not stand a chance after she lost to Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, who broke the world record in a scarcely unbelievable 14 seconds. The Ethiopian was expected to perform just as well in the 5,000m, and Cheruiyot did not stand a chance in the eyes of many. However, the 32 year old Kenyan was very impressive, who together with Helen Obiri chased down Ayana, who had built a massive lead, and eventually beat her in the final lap, breaking the Olympic record in the process.
Perhaps the least expected gold medallist of these games was 21 year old youngster Conseslus Kipruto. He was always going to be marked as one for the future, the supporting act to the self-proclaimed greatest steeplechase runner in the world, Ezekiel Kemboi. Before the race, Kipruto says Kemboi played his usual mind games, taunting the youngster and telling him the gold belonged to him. This, perhaps, is what spurred the young man on, and he did not disappoint. He kept up with the leading pack throughout the race before finally sprinting away in the last 200m to win the gold medal, and breaking the Olympic record in the process. Kemboi came a surprising third, and was then subsequently disqualified from the race for a minor infringement. Kipruto made a bold statement on the blue Rio track, stating clearly that he was now the new leader of the pack, and the great Ezekiel Kemboi and Brimin Kipruto, who finished the face sixth, should now usher the new generation in. Credit to Kemboi, he celebrated with Kipruto and ran the lap of honour with him, a mark of true sportsmanship. With the iconic 34 year old opting not to retire after his disqualification, this is a great rivalry to keep an eye on.
Jemima Sumgong had a difficult few days before the Olympics. After a mix-up that meant she barely made it onto the plane to Rio, she shook off the disappointment to take the world on, and went on to win Kenya’s first ever Olympic gold medal in the marathon. Taking into consideration the number of great female marathon runners Kenya has had, including Catherine Ndereba, Joyce Chepchumba and Priscah Jeptoo, this was quite a massive achievement.
She may be of slight stature, but Faith Kipyegon, born in Bomet County, won her first Gold medal, stepping ahead of one of the giants of the 1,500m and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba. It looks bright for Kipyegon, and despite not being one of the better known names to participate in the games, she has already marked her territory, and looks like one of the stars who will certainly shine over the next ten years or so.
3: Silver and Bronze
Apart from the six gold medals that Kenya won, there were six silver and one bronze medal won. The silver medallists were Hyvin Jepkemoi, Paul Tanui, Helen Obiri, Julius Yego, Boniface Mucheru Tumuti and Vivian Cheruiyot, with the solo bronze medal won by Margaret Wambui.
Jepkemoi, Obiri, Cheruiyot and Tanui were expected to do well at the games, and as much as they came second in their 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m, 10,000m and Men’s 10,000m respectively, they lost to some of the greatest athletes in their respective events of all time. Obiri lost her race to Vivian Cheruiyot, while Cheruiyot herself lost the 10,000m final to Almaz Ayana, who broke the world record. Tanui lost his race to Mo Farah, who completed his ‘double double’ and cemented his status as the one of the greatest 5,000m and 10,000m runner of all time.
Boniface Mucheru Tumuti and Julius Yego, however, broke new ground for Kenya. This was the first time that Kenya had won any medal in the 400m hurdles and javelin respectively. Little known Tumuti ran a brave race, breaking the national record and setting his personal best of 47.78, but eventually losing to American Kerron Clement by 0.05 seconds. Yego had a night of mixed emotions during his final. Having barely qualified for the final itself, Yego set an early marker for the entire cast after he threw a mammoth 88.24. However, he injured his ankle during the throw and did not make any other significant throw. In the fourth round, German Thomas Rohler threw 90.30m, winning the gold medal. However, it was a massive achievement for the 27 year old athlete, famous for using YouTube to train when he could not get proper access to training facilities.
4: The Future Looks Bright
Out of the six gold medallists at the Rio 2016 games, three were over 30: two marathon runners, an event naturally run by more mature athletes, and the evergreen Vivian Cheruiyot. Faith Kipyegon (22), Conseslus Kipruto (21) and David Rudisha (27) could still be at their prime by the next Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, in 2020.
A majority of the other medallists were under 30 as well, and locally, there are hundreds of athletes in most track and field events with the potential to become Olympic gold medallists in the future. All we need to do is to have proper management of sport in the country, both from Athletics Kenya, Ministry of Sports, and National Olympic Committee.
5: Medal Haul
This was Kenya’s second highest ever medal haul at the Olympics, and the joint highest Olympic gold medal wins ever, same as the number of medals won at the Beijing Olympics eight years ago. Two factors contributed to this.
First, most of the athletes who were expected to win medals in their events did. In fact, if Ezekiel Kemboi had not been disqualified, and had Brimin Kipruto, Asbel Kiprop and the 5000m representatives performed better than they did, Kenya would probably have had its best ever medal tally.
Secondly, we had athletes who performed admirably in sports that we never traditionally perform well at, most notably 400m hurdles and javelin. If we could encourage grass root participation in all track and field events, Kenya has the potential to compete with countries like the USA (who won 32 in total, 13 of which were gold) and Great Britain, who have competitive athletes in all events.
On a personal level, I have made an amazing, warm and absolutely wonderful friend called Lucio Barbeiro (follow on Instagram @thisislucio and Facebook), a runner and graphics designer based in the city of Curitiba, the largest city and capital of the state of Paraná. He has cheered Kenya on throughout these Olympics, and watched every single race that Kenya participated in. Thank you, Lucio, and please thank the whole of Brasil for us. Obrigado!