IN RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
Kenya’s legendary middle distance runner, Kipchoge Keino, has bestowed additional honour on the country by becoming the first recipient of the Olympic Laurel award.
Kipchoge, who is also the chairman of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya (Nock), received the award at the Games’ opening ceremony early Saturday morning at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
The award, in recognition of Kipchoge’s outstanding contribution to the Olympic movement and his work in educating orphaned children, will no doubt inspire Kenyan athletes to strive for excellence when athletics program finally begins on Friday.
The beaming 76-year-old jogged to the podium to receive the award at the end of the glittering opening ceremony that began at 8pm on Friday night in Rio (2am Saturday, Kenyan time).
“As I receive this award, I would like to thank my family and friends who have supported me in all,” said Kipchoge.
"Education supports not only empowers our youth to be better citizens and leaders of the future, but it will also mould them to connect positive change. Humanity depends on us to motivate them,” he added in his brief speech.
Escorted to the podium by a group of children carrying white dove-like kites, Kipchoge also implored the Olympic family to keep on working on youth.
"We come to this world with nothing, we will leave it with nothing," he said.
Kipchoge, who is a two-time Olympic gold medallist for Kenya (1,500m, 1968 Mexico) and (3,000m steeplechase, 1972 Munich) is a highly respected figure within the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
His latest recognition follows closely his induction as one of the 24 inaugural members of the International Association of Athletics Federations Hall of Fame in 2012.
Kipchoge, who is an inspirational figure in Kenya’s athletics folklore, now holds the great distinction of becoming the first recipient of an award, which will be subsequently awarded at the Opening Ceremony of each edition of the Olympic Games.
Prior to Kipchoge’s award, there was an interesting spectacle as boxer Rayton Okwiri carried fellow Hit Squad member, Benson Gicharu, when the Kenyan team - resplendent in their predominantly red outfit - marched past as the 158th nation out of the 202 countries that are represented here in Rio.
Okwiri will face Russian opponent, Andrey Zamkovoy, in a round of 32 welterweight bout on Sunday evening at 5:45pm while Gicharu has a date with Mongolian opponent, Tsendbaatar Erdenebat, in another round of 32 bantamweight fight Wednesday night (11:45pm).
The third member of the Kenyan boxing team Light flyweight, Peter Mungai, will take to the ring against LV Bin of China on Monday at 5:15pm
The loudest cheer was however, reserved for a team composed of refugees who will be competing at the Olympics for the time.
“You are sending a message of hope in the world, to many other refugees, thanks to your great talent and human spirit you are making a great effort in the society” – said IOC President, Thomas Bach, while speaking about the them.