Kenya may have failed to clinch the overall title, finishing fourth, but the country can look back with pride after hosting the most successful World -18 Championships in Athletics with a record turnout of 65,000 fans at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.
Kenya wrapped up the last edition of the youth event with 15 medals, finishing fourth, their lowest placing in the history of the event that started in 1999 in Poland where Kenya topped the medal standings.
The country lost two titles; boys’ 800m and 3,000m respectively, collecting four gold, seven silver and four bronze medals, their highest ever collection but not in terms of quality.
However, Kenya won rare medals with Moitalel Mpoke and Mary Moraa’s silver medals in boys’ 400m hurdles and girls’ 400m respectively. Then Dominic Samson claimed bronze in boys’ 10,000m race walk.
The performance of field events athletes by reaching in most of the finals was a clear manifestation that Kenyan athletes have a great future and can do well if exposed to the right facilities and training.
Age dominated discussions at the championship but the loss of boys’ 800m and girls’ 1,500m titles to archrivals Ethiopia owing to tactical errors took Kenyans by surprise as the technical bench owned up to the mistake.
The only time Kenya finished third overall in the competition was during the 2003 Championships in Canada. The county topped the medal standing in 1999 and 2009, finishing second in the rest of the championships.
Head coach Kariuki Gikonyo said although they failed to attain the target of at least eight gold medals, his charges fought a good battle, winning medals in unfamiliar events and reaching the final in most field events.
Gloria Mulei reached the final in both triple and long jump events alongside Vincent Kilel in triple jump, Musyoka Mwema in boys’ long jump and Ita Nao and Cythia Chebet in javelin throw.
“It shows that our athletes can go far if they can beat athletes who had met qualifying standards in throws and jumps,” said Gikonyo. “Collecting 15 medals, including seven silver medals, shows that they fought to the end. I thank them for a good battle.”
Gikonyo noted that the tactical gamble that cost Kenya titles in boys’ 800m and girls 1,500m are normal with youngsters.
“They are new and you don’t know how they can react to change of tactics. We opted for high speed, which didn’t work. We learn from such things,” said Gikonyo.
Gikonyo thanked Athletics Kenya and the Ministry of Sports for coming up with the idea of world youth camps that produced the athletes. “The holidays camps must continue at all cost if the country is to continue having a rich bank in athletics,” said Gikonyo. “The camps must resume this August since the World Under-20 is due in just a few months’ time.”
Gikonyo said they will require equipment to train the athletes in field events. “We all saw how some of our athletes in high jump did it vertically. We couldn’t field someone in pole vault for lack of fibre poles,” said Gikonyo.
AK President Jackson Tuwei said the fact that Kenya finished fourth and South Africa topped the medal standing is normal in competitions. “We expected to top the medals table, with Kenya hosting but that didn’t happen,” said Tuwei, adding that Kenya experienced technical issues in boys’ 800m and girls’ 1,500m races but its difficult to gauge the athletes, this being their first major championship.
“You can never tell how they are going to react with pressure from over 50,000 cheering,” said Tuwei.