From the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to London’s Heathrow, one can clearly feel the Olympic spirit.
Taking the Virgin Atlantic flight to London – one of the final ones by Sir Richard Branson’s airline that has made a business decision to close down its London-Nairobi-London operations in September – it’s difficult to fail to notice something different in the air.
The Olympic Identity and Accreditation Card (OIAC) also serves as a multiple entry visa for the United Kingdom, and after thorough scrutiny at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the rest of the journey to London is flawless.
While it normally takes one well over 30 minutes, sometimes an hour, to go through passport control and immigration at the London Heathrow airport, due to long queues and thorough checks, it took me a record 10 minutes from the luggage belt to the taxi rank at arrivals!
This thanks to special Olympic desks set up at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 to accommodate Games traffic.
Then there the special, dedicated ‘Olympic Lanes’ well marked out that help the Games dignitaries motor through the notoriously busy streets of London with minimal inconvenience.
Scores of volunteers in maroon shirts wait enthusiastically to help visitors through, from the airports to the train and bus stations, and even with Syria hogging global headlines, all for the wrong reasons, the Syrian Olympic team was accorded a VIP reception when they landed in London on Monday.
The build-up reached fever pitch on Monday too when International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge and his delegation were hosted to a Games reception by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
And with the summer sunshine finally out, the Union Jacks flying all over and Great Britain celebrating Brad Wiggins’ weekend Tour de France victory, the first by a Briton in the 107-year history of the world’s toughest cycling race, one couldn’t have hoped for a better final few days leading up to the Games.
Writing for the Daily Mail on Monday this week after Wiggins’s Tour triumph, columnist David Jones aptly summed it up: “After enduring yet another year of hurt thanks to a failing England football team and the perennial Wimbledon agony of Andy Murray, it is wonderful enough to be celebrating a momentous British sporting triumph. “And with the Olympics just four days away, Wiggins’s victory couldn’t have been timelier.”
Monday night saw 50,000 people participate in rehearsals for Friday’s £27 million (Sh3.5 billion) opening ceremony at the Stratford, the Olympic Park that houses most of the Games’ venues including the centre piece, the Olympic Stadium.
There are well over half a million Kenyans living in the United Kingdom and demand for tickets at Kenya competitions is high, with the elite squad of Kenyan runners eagerly awaited here for the marathon, track and field action that starts on August 3.
Ugali far away from home to keep boxers in shape as officials leave nothing to chance
Ever since the 1988 Games in Seoul, when Robert Wangila pounded Frenchman Laurent Boudouani into submission in the second round of their welterweight final to win Kenya’s and Africa’s Olympic gold, no Kenyan fighter has panned the precious medal.
It was in unbelievable fashion that Wangila tore through Dorde Petronijevic (Yugoslavia), Khaidan Ganulga (Mongolia) and Khristo Furnigov (Bulgaria) before a walkover against Pole Jan Dydak landed him in that memorable final. But ever since his death 18 years ago in Las Vegas from head injuries sustained in his pro fight against David Gonzalez, Kenya has tried in vain to dedicate an Olympic gold to the trail-blazer.
And the chances of paying tribute to Wangila look even dimmer at this year’s Games as Kenya landed only one boxer here, flyweight Benson Gicharu, who is now faced with the gargantuan task of going it alone all the way to that elusive podium place under the keen eye of another Kenyan boxing great Patrick “Mont” Waweru, his coach.
“Mont” knows only too well how difficult the task of winning an Olympic medal is, as he was Wangila’s team-mate at the 1988 Games where Kenya’s “Hit Squad” fielded a full squad of 12 boxers at the Olympics.
“Mont” lost to German Andreas Zulow in the first round of the lightweight competition.
London 2012 celebrates the arrival of women’s boxing at the Olympics with Kenya’s trail-blazer, middleweight Elizabeth Andiego, having landed a wildcard from the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) to fight at these Games.
The two boxers were expected at the Athletes’ Village here yesterday with team manager, James Kameta, happy about their three-week training camp in Cardiff, organised by AIBA for Olympics-bound fighters.
Kameta arrived in London last week and is leaving nothing to chance, shopping for maize flour that will be used to prepare his boxers ugali stable before and during competition.
“I arrived in London from Cardiff early to make sure that the conditions for my boxers are perfect,” Kameta told the Daily Nation on Tuesday.
“You know, it’s not right to change the diet for the boxers when they training is at the peak and when they are entering into competition.
“The food here is good but it’s not what they are used to, that’s why I decided to shop around for the unga that can be used to prepare their ugali which they can eat with beef, chicken and the vegetables on offer.
“The draw for the boxing competition is not out yet until tomorrow but Kameta believes that the AIBA camp in the Welsh city has helped a great deal in preparing his fighters for the task ahead.
“It was a very good training camp as there they got to meet and train with boxers of the same calibre as them and getting used to these fighters helps in shaking off the stage freight that boxers usually encounter at Games like this,” Kameta, the Amateur Boxing Association of Kenya chairman, said.
“It is good psychologically and helps remove the fear before competition when you interact with your would-be opponents before competition,” Kameta, Kenya’s boxing team manager added. “Boxing is today a very technical sport and many things come into play before competition that’s why I believe that the training stint in Cardiff was very good for our boxers.
“This sort of ‘warming down’ ahead of competition is invaluable.”