It was a spectacular show of might. No one saw this coming. Not even a prophet. Backed by thousands of fans throughout the five days of competition, Kenyan athletes sparkled as they scooped 25 medals to finish top of the pack in this year’s African Senior Athletics Championships.
Battling in chilly weather against Africa’s finest, the local stars displayed an incredible peformance that left arch-rivals Ethiopia on the ropes.
Even continental bigwigs South Africa and Nigeria - who’ve been tough to beat - were left choking on dust as they found out the hard way no one messes with Kenyans at home.
After leading the table in the first three days, Kenya slipped on the fourth day as Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa threatened to resume normal transmission in the premier Africa track and field championship.
But the hosts had an ace under their sleeve. For it’s in the final day that Kenya obliterated the field with five gold medals to claim the overall title. And all this in just two hours.
It was a mission that was executed with military precision, little wonder then most of the stars are drawn from the Police and the Armed Forces.
The clouds gathered early in the morning and the floodgates opened when Grace Wanjiru and David Kimutai claimed gold and silver respectively in the walking race.
The 30-year-old Wanjiru set the only African record of the championships in winning her third African 20km women’s walk race title in 1:34.19. She led from 2km and took victory ahead of Tunisia’s Chaima Trabelsi with Ethiopian Aynalem Eshetu taking bronze. Ethiopia’s Asnakech Ararsa, silver medallist two years ago in Addis Ababa, was disqualified after 14km.
Four more gold medals in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase, the men’s 5,000m, 1,500m and 4x400m relay left Kenya’s rivals baffled. Finally it dawned on the country that the recognition it had long craved for as the true home of athletics had been reserved for display on home soil.
Kenya won 25 medals, 10 gold, seven silver and eight bronze to be declared the champions, condemning Nigeria to second with 18 medals, while South Africa were third with 19 medals but with much fewer gold than Nigeria.
The national anthem was played on the first day of the competition when youngster Wilson Kiprop claimed the 10,000m gold, throwing pre-race favourites Ethiopia off-balance. They never recovered.
And on the final day the quartet of Anderson Mureta, Vincent Koskei, Julius Kirwa and Mark Mutai clinched a rare gold in the 4x400m men’s relay race, relegating pre-race favourites Nigeria to second.
Mureta and team had a few minutes earlier watched in joy as their female counterparts, Grace Kidake, Catherine Nandi, Maureen Jelagat and Janeth Jepkosgei defied the odds to clinch silver in the women’s 4x400m race.
Jepkosgei, a brave cop, threw her body and soul on the line for her country when she produced a lightning final kick to give Kenya a rare silver.
Jepkosgei, who had lost gold in the 800m race earlier in the day, collected the baton at position five and - with courage and determination - powered past Botswana and Nigeria to finish second.
There were no surprises in the men’s 1,500m where Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop comfortably held off the challenge from the advancing Amine Laalou (Morocco) for his first African title, an improvement on his 800m silver in Addis Ababa two years ago.
“The race was fantastic and the cheering squad was outstanding,” said Kiprop on the rasping support he received from the crowd.
The biggest drama of the day came in the men’s 5000m final where Vincent Yator, who seemed to have the gold in the bag, slipped in the final 10 metres of the race to allow compatriot and Olympic 5000m bronze medallist Edwin Soi breeze past him to claim gold in another clean sweep of the medals for Kenya. Mark Kiptoo took bronze.