Ah, what bliss! It’s a gratifying time to be a sports fan in Kenya. In fact, it is agreeable to be Kenyan.
Sports success has been coming our way this season faster than one can say Kenyan Sport, and it is only one who lacks that distinct Kenyan character that cannot appreciate that.
About three weeks ago, the national Sevens rugby team was in the semi-finals of the World Cup in Moscow and, were it not for the bleak, conspiring elements of Northern Europe – to which Mike Friday’s men had not been conditioned – Britain would have been no match for our quixotic torpedoes.
Just last week, the national 15s team (we’re talking premier rugby mind) rode the Africa Cup wave home, ruthlessly crushing archrivals, Uganda, and Zimbabwe in ‘the battle of Tananarive’. In the same week, the national youth athletics team topped that victory up with second overall ranking in the World Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. Granted, it was athletics, Kenya’s grazing field, but it was a victory nevertheless.
Hardly four days later, Harambee Stars captain, Victor Wanyama, became the first East African to sign up for a Barclays Premier League club when he joined Southampton.
Bike has Kenyan colours
Now, many football ‘specialists’, in social media no less, have made very brash noises about this fact; au contraire, it is one to which I still subscribe. Indulge me.
Former Burundian national and a Newcastle United player, Gael Bigirimana, who’s informed a large part of that discussion, is actually a British citizen, who has played for England in the Under 20 World Cup. He, effectively, is not, cannot be considered East African.
For some, perhaps led off-target by his Western-Kenya-sounding surname, Curtis Osano, a Reading player, takes that honour. The fact is that, although born in Nakuru 26 years ago, Osano is British through and through. Simultaneously, that unique circumstance holds true for Blackburn Rovers’ Swedish twin duo, Martin Olsson Waigwa and Marcus Munuhe Olsson. While their mother is Kenyan, their father is a Swede, and they are every inch Swedish.
On Sunday night, a Kenyan-born Briton – Chris Froome – won the Tour de France, the toughest, for all purposes and intents, cycling race on earth. Participants ride for more than 3,000Kms in tough terrain over three weeks. Only the toughest survive.
But back to the Kenyan moment, although Froome holds British citizenship, he is Kenyan at heart and in personality. His bicycle has a Kenyan flag painted on its frame, for instance, and was born and brought up in Kikuyu.
Heck, he won bronze for Kenya in the All Africa Games in Algiers in 2007! His family – his dad and younger brother – live in Kenya, and Froome only became a Briton in 2008, after being roundly frustrated by the Kenya Cycling Federation. Only heavens know why.
Froome’s upbringing is hardly British. In a heaving village in third-world Kenya, the rider, at one point, sold avocados off the back of his bike in Kikuyu for pocket money. His mother – barely getting by on a stringent budget in a servant’s quarter – couldn’t even afford a bike for her son. Froome borrowed his first bike from a US Peace Corps teacher in Kikuyu. David Kinjah, a renowned cyclist, Froome’s trainer and mentor, picks up his story.
“Chris is one of us. I honestly never imagined that the reluctant 12-year-old kid that I taught to ride would be a champion. I nurtured him and he has returned that favour with a world championship.”
Kinjah, who subscribed to a satellite television package and recorded every stage of the Tour, has been following his protégé’s progress in, possibly, the world’s most grueling sporting event, saluted Froome’s conquest.
“Even though we don’t see each other much, he has lived my dreams. He is one of us; a witty, happy a white brother who blended into our village and ate our food.”
One-man team in Salzburg
Froome so much hankered to represent the country he grew up in that, for the 2006 Road World Championships in Salzburg, he used official federation e-mail to second himself, without the knowledge of officials, who had never supported him. “He, somehow, obtained the password for the e-mail account, and sent out e-mails, in the name of the chairman, and entered himself for the tournament,” says Kinjah.
In the Under-23 World Championships in Salzburg, and in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Froome was a one-man team, happy to cycle for his darling country.
In Salzburg, the young champ had to take four buses and walk two kilometres to his hotel. He got lost on his way to a manager’s meeting, in the rain, because his map had got smudged. He eventually made it, wet and miserable, driven by utter resolve.
In Melbourne, he was again a one-man team – competing, attending managers’ meetings and arranging for his meals, uncomplaining. Such is the culmination of a story which even those who pride themselves with being astonished at nothing will find too incredulous to believe.
Even more incredulous is the fact that Britain’s glory should have been Kenya’s, and those federation officials ought to be bluntly ashamed. But no matter, he has done Kenya proud. Congratulations, Froome. We salute you.
Allan Buluku is the Sports Editor, Daily Nation. [email protected]